All corners of the Republican Party have made themselves very clear: they intend to, in Donald Trump’s words, “delay, delay, delay” the confirmation of Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court until after the 2016 election. Ted Cruz has signaled his intention to lead a blockade, and Mitch McConnell intends to run a blockade.
All of this would be unprecedented, despite conservative protestations to the contrary. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that McConnell can hold the Supreme Court nomination hostage for the whole year. But is that true?
It’s not necessary for the entire GOP to confirm the nominee. It only requires a few GOP Senators to join with the Democrats to fulfill their Constitutional duties. And as it turns out, there are quite a few Republican Senators in blue states who would be pilloried as intransigent obstructionists if they refused to confirm commonsense consensus nominees.
Among these Senators would be Senator Mark Kirk in Illinois, who is already Democrats’ primary target for a Senate takeover. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson is less ideologically likely to cross the aisle, but with Russ Feingold already seeming likely to defeat him in November, it’s not clear that Johnson can afford to give Democrats yet another cudgel with which to attack him. The same goes for Senator Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Rob Portman in Ohio.
President Obama will certainly nominate a number of popular, reasonable and consensus nominees, from recently confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sri Srinivasan. With each attempted and withdrawn nomination the Republican Party would look worse as a whole, but the careers of the specifically imperiled Senators would be particularly threatened–and with them the Republican Senate majority itself.
Will Ayotte, Kirk and their colleagues kowtow to McConnell and Cruz and likely eliminate their ability to hold their seats, or will they do the right thing, perform their constitutional duty and protect their Senate careers?
Time will tell.