The Garland Pre-Compromise Is Already Sabotaging Clinton’s First 100 Days

As confidence grows that Trump will lose in November, speculation is already beginning about the first 100 days of a new hypothetical Clinton administration. Top of the list is filling the Supreme Court vacancy left by the passing of justice Antonin Scalia.

In theory, a Clinton Administration supported by a Democratic Senate majority should be able to reshape the court in a significantly more liberal direction. But it seems increasingly likely that Clinton’s hands will be tied by the Obama Administration’s decision to nominate a centrist in Merrick Garland in the hopes of compromise with the current GOP. Democratic Senators are already pushing for Clinton not to displace Garland with a more liberal choice in the interest of “preserving political capital.”

Top Senate Democrats are pushing Hillary Clinton to renominate Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, a move party strategists argue would give her an early advantage against Republicans if she wins the presidency.

They’re not waiting until Election Day — or a lame-duck session of Congress — to define the first major decision of a Clinton presidency.

“In her first 100 days, does she want a Supreme Court fight?” asked a senior Democratic aide.

“Top Senate Democrats” never seem to learn their lesson about political capital and negotiating with Republicans in Congress. There is no amount of compromising or bending over backwards that will please Senate Republicans or even make them more willing to negotiate with Democrats over other key items. One of the more glaring falsehoods of the Democratic primary campaign was that Clinton would be able to make more effective deals and compromises with the opposition, enabling Clinton to get things done that Sanders could not.

The reality is that Congressional Republicans won’t compromise with Clinton any more than they would have with Sanders. And they won’t be more inclined to deal in good faith with her if she nominates Garland than if she were to pull his nomination and select someone else.

There is an argument to be made that switching out Garland for a more progressive choice would be seen as a “divisive” move by some voters, and that it’s better to remain “the adult in the room.” But this, too, is far overstated. The number of voters who care about the optics of partisan divisiveness is very small and unrepresentative of the needs of country.

The shrinking cadre of petit bourgeois, upper-middle-class, socially liberal yet economically conservative aficionados of David Brooks and Ron Fournier does not need any more pandering from Beltway politicians than it already receives.

It is understandable that Barack Obama wants to put his stamp on the Supreme Court by offering a choice that might allow him to fill the Court during his term.

But there’s no reason that Hillary Clinton should feel bound by Obama’s decisions when she enters the Oval Office. Clinton should understand that there is no point in attempting to curry favor with Republicans, and no real advantage to be had by pandering to voters who value the optics of divisiveness over actually fixing the country’s glaring injustices.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.