Republicans in the Senate could use a few more voices of reason. We’re looking at you, Sen. Kirk.
For four days now, Mark Kirk, the junior senator from Illinois, has declined to answer a simple question: Should the Senate hold confirmation hearings to consider anybody — anybody at all — nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the Supreme Court seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia?
The simple answer is yes. Of course the Senate should. That is their job: To “advise and consent.” Nowhere in the Constitution does it say “hold your breath and hope to die.”
But Kirk, busily calculating the political fallout, has failed to take any kind of stand — let alone the right stand — even as other Republican senators in the last two days have begun to reconsider their knee-jerk opposition. In doing so, Kirk is letting down the grownups in his party. He might want to announce his support for confirmation hearings quickly, while he still has hope of looking like a shepherd instead of a sheep.
Better yet, he might want to resolve to be honestly open to the possibility of approving the president’s choice.
There are times in politics when, no matter what you decide, you’re going to get hammered. For Kirk, this is one of those times. He might just as well be a statesman.
Kirk, who is running for re-election, faces only nominal opposition in the March 15 Republican primary, but he almost certainly faces a tough contest in the November general election. If he supports Senate confirmation hearings, he risks losing much of his party’s hard-right base — and their money. But if he sides with those who want to block hearings, he risks exploding his carefully nurtured image as a thoughtfully moderate Illinois Republican, centrist on social issues and more conservative on economic ones.
Tea party types may cotton more to Kirk, but he’s not running for re-election in Texas. He’s running in Democratic-leaning Illinois in a presidential election year. And he’s already catching grief just for failing to take a stand.
“Every day that goes by that he doesn’t speak up is a disservice to the people of Illinois and the people of this country,” U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who is running in the Democratic Senate primary, said in a meeting Tuesday with the Sun-Times Editorial Board. “Our nation needs a functioning Supreme Court.”
“This is so typical of the challenges we have in Illinois,” Andrea Zopp, another Democratic Senate candidate, said in the meeting.
From now until November, Democrats will count the days the Senate fails to hold confirmation hearings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s snap decision Saturday — within hours of hearing of Scalia’s death — that the Senate would not even consider Obama’s nominee, will undermine, not strengthen, his party’s ability to hold onto its slim Senate majority.
Other party leaders know it. Which is why they’re backing down.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-IA, agreed over the weekend that no hearings should be held, but he changed his tune Tuesday, according to the Fiscal Times, telling reporters: “I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions.” Similarly, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, a member of the Judiciary panel, reportedly warned Tuesday that Republicans would “fall into the trap of being obstructionist” if they failed to hold hearings.
Obama, for his part, would be wise to nominate a clear judicial moderate, somebody a fair-minded Republican could cross the aisle and vote to approve. Case in point would be Sri Srinivasan, who sits on the District of Columbia federal appeals court. In 2013, his nomination was confirmed 97-0 by the Senate.
For Obama, this might make for good politics. Republicans who voted against a truly moderate nominee would tie themselves in knots trying to rationalize their decision. But it is about more than that. Our highest court functions best when not dominated by ideologues of the right or left.
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