MUSING WITH MIRISCH-After the news that Republican Senate leaders will not even consider any Supreme Court nominee until a new president is in office, President Obama is taking it to the streets in an effort to get his yet unnamed pick approved. Or at least to make some much-needed political hay.
In a guest column on the acronymically-named SCOTUSblog, Obama makes his case that he will do his constitutional duty by naming an appointment and he expects the Senate will do the same by giving the Obama nominee a fair hearing and, at least in Obama's world, the thumbs up in an up-or-down vote.
The President's implication is that he is fulfilling his duty while a Republican Senate contingent which has clearly stated it will not act on a Supreme Court replacement for Justice Scalia until the next president is in office, would be guilty of a dereliction of duty. If you read between the lines, it almost could be an admonition straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan: "He has done his duty. I will do mine. Go ye and do yours."
Obama talks about his putative nominee's virtuous qualities: fierce independence; understanding the role of the judiciary in interpreting, not making law; a keen intellect; faultless integrity. Of course. But let's cut through the crap. At this stage, it's all political posturing. On both sides.
And in some ways, the President's predicament reminds me of situations faced by the kids in my high school forensics class who, after getting busted by the teacher for some infraction or other, were faced with detention or another equally odious punishment. In such situations, Bonnie Miller's response was invariably the same: "Sorry, hon, you did it to yourself..."
In the past, we have heard criticisms from the White House when Congress passed bills which the President had signaled he would veto. On such occasions, it was as if one could hear in the background of the White House declarations Seinfeld's Larry Thomas (the infamous Soup Nazi) deliver one of his lesser-known classic lines with gusto: "Please, you're wasting everyone's time." The President would then go on to veto the bill in question with a slight head shake, as if to say "kids will be kids."
On a number of occasions, if the President wanted to be spared the inconvenience of a veto, he got his Senate acolytes to use the filibuster. In this way, for example, he was able to see his recent Iran deal sail through, despite majority opposition in both houses of Congress. While the deal was voted down by the House, it failed to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate.
At that time, of course, it was the Republican Senate leadership which decried the Democrats' use of the filibuster. As a key element of American foreign policy, the Iran deal, they claimed, deserved a full hearing and an up-or-down vote. The Democrats not only responded with the "waste of time" argument, but also suggested that the use of the filibuster was simply yet another way in which -- through their duly elected Senators -- the people of the United States were speaking. Sorry, Republicans, you didn't have the votes. Next!
Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Democrats are crying "Foul!" and trying to parse the differences between their own use of the filibuster and the Republicans' unwillingness to consider any Obama SCOTUS nominee, which is in itself a form of filibuster.
"Ah, but the filibuster is often used when it comes to legislation. It is unprecedented when it comes to Supreme Court nominees."
This is sheer nonsense, and it is all political game-playing within the wacky, arcane set of rules that the Senate, in all its old-school glory, sets for itself. When you change those rules, as for instance when the Democrats under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid used the "nuclear option" to eliminate the filibuster for lower-court nominees, don't be surprised when the new rules are used against you if ever that shoe moves feet. And be even less surprised when the existing rules are used against you. You're all playing by the same rules, unless, of course, you change them.
Let me make it clear: I personally believe the Republicans in the Senate should give any Obama nominee a hearing (though I do not feel their "advise and consent" role obligates them to an up-or-down vote). If anything, the Republicans are playing within those old-school rules which allow them to make a decision without actually voting on it. They are not changing the rules, as the Democrats did when they used the nuclear option.
Now it is the President who is on notice that his nominee has no chance of clearing the Senate, as the Senate exercises its constitutionally mandated "advise and consent" role. In this case of reversed fortunes, it is the Senate which effectively is threatening a veto. And yet, just as the Republicans in Congress don't always pay heed to the President's veto threat when it comes to legislation, the President himself seems undeterred by the Senate's veto threat.
It's a classic game of political chicken. This time the Republicans will want to frame the matter as one of the American People's right to decide the matter through the upcoming presidential election; they will want to paint the President as "wasting time." The President will want to paint the Republicans as "obstructionist" and "derelict in their duties." Each side will attempt to inflict the maximum amount of political damage on the other in this election year.
In a sense, the President is reaping what he has sowed through his inability to reach across the aisle during his 7+ years in office. Ultimately, the SCOTUS showdown and game-playing are nothing more than a symptom of his dysfunctional relationship with the Republicans in Congress, which has been exacerbated by his own abuse of executive orders. In short: how can Republicans in Congress trust the President to pick a justice who understands the Supreme Court's constitutionally mandated role when he himself doesn't seem to understand his own?
Just as Republicans shouldn't be surprised when the President follows through with a threatened veto, so should the President not be surprised when the Senate, led by the Republicans, exercises its veto. The immortal words of Bonnie Miller seem to ring truer than ever before.
(John Mirisch is the Mayor of Beverly Hills. He has, among other things, created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government. Mayor Mirisch is a CityWatch contributor.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.