WASHINGTON – Wednesday marked 175 days since President Barack Obama nominated federal appellate Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, with Senate Republican leaders blocking a hearing and a vote.
The scene: A press conference at the bottom of the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court with five Democratic senators, including Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill., plus a handful of former Garland law clerks.
They are broiling under the sun – there is no shade – as they use the 175-day milestone as an excuse (as if they need one) to jab at the Republican blockade.
Lawmakers are back after a seven-week summer break. It’s unlikely the Senate will do anything substantial before the November election determines whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is the president and if the GOP retains control of the Senate.
Right after the Garland presser, the Democratic senators will head to a lunch in the Capitol, where they will hear from Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who is Clinton’s vice presidential running mate.
“Not once in the history of the United States” has the Senate refused a nominee a hearing and a vote, said Durbin.
“Why this time?” It’s because, Durbin said, Republicans “have an agenda … they do not believe will be served by Merrick Garland, an independent jurist.” The Republicans want to help “Wall street banks, corporate interests and the Koch brothers.”
Garland “is the first Supreme Court nomine ever, ever to be denied a hearing. Donald Trump said he wants to fill this vacancy. Throughout American history, the Senate has done its job, held the hearings, even during greats wars and great Depressions. It’s shameful that the Senate is now failing to do its job, and Republicans are holding out hope that Donald Trump will fill the Supreme Court vacancy.”
You’ll be hearing more of this line Durbin wrapped up with: “It’s time for the Republicans in the United States Senate to do their job.”
The politics: Congressional Democrats want more than a Clinton win. In the run-up to the election portraying Republicans as do-nothings may help Democrats win seats.
That’s why on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden will come to the Capitol for a presser with the Senate and House Democratic Leaders, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The Senate Democrats have a chance of grabbing the majority, with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a prime target for defeat.
The theme for Thursday is “Tell Congressional Republicans: Do Your Job!”
Small world: With all the cameras and reporters pointed at the senators, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and campaign chair John Podesta stroll un-noticed right past the assemblage. They were in from Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn, working the inner Democratic congressional precincts while Kaine talked to his Senate colleagues.
We’re “talking to our friends on Capitol Hill,” Mook said as he and Podesta were walking from the Senate to the House side.
The Garland backstory: A few hours after news broke on Feb. 13 that Justice Antonin Scalia died, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed the Senate would never vote on a nominee sent to them by Obama.
McConnell knew that in a presidential election year, he had the potential to be able to run out the clock and see if a Republican would win in November.
This was never about Donald Trump per se. On the evening of Feb. 13, Republicans held their ninth primary debate in Greenville, S.C. No one at the debate was predicting Trump would capture the GOP presidential nomination.
So this is not personal about Garland, who was raised in Lincolnwood and graduated from Niles West High School.
Obama nominated Garland on March 16. At the same time, the White House activated a network of Obama White House veterans to build pressure on Senate Republicans for a hearing and an up-or-down vote, especially targeting Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley R-Iowa.
So far, McConnell’s run-out-the-clock strategy is working.
The Supreme Court has made a series of four-four rulings. A perpetual deadlocked court is not making the calls.
“When the Constitution says advise and consent, it doesn’t say advise and consent after the presidential election,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.,
“This is not just some TV show, right. ‘Eight is Enough.” Eight is not enough on the United States Supreme Court … so we ask our colleagues to do their jobs,” she said.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., wondered, “How much farther will they go? If they don’t like the outcome of the presidential election, will they then refuse to confirm the next nominee? Where does this end? “
We don’t know.