Just hours after news broke of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing, Donald Trump gave Senate Republicans three words of advice on filling the vacancy: “delay, delay, delay.”
Senate Republicans didn’t need his advice: that has been their strategy for years. Before Barack Obama set foot in the Oval Office, Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues decided to block him at every turn — no matter what. They publicly promised to make government work, but away from the cameras they deployed stall-and-delay tactics to stop the government in its tracks.
Nowhere has that strategy been more insidious or persistent than in Republicans’ efforts to block Obama’s nominations to head agencies, fill judicial vacancies and staff other key government posts.
On Monday, I released a new report that documents the long and troubling history of Republican obstruction of Obama administration nominees — a story that started at the very beginning of Obama’s presidency.
Despite their statements and self-congratulatory videos to the contrary, when it comes to keeping the government staffed, Senate Republicans have flatly refused to do their jobs.
The latest example involves the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. It’s been over 80 days since President Obama nominated Judge Garland to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. That’s more than enough time for the Senate to have held a hearing and a floor vote on his nomination — a process that has been routine for modern-day Supreme Court nominees. Until now.
Republicans have said they won’t consider anyone that Obama nominates to serve on the court. They claim they want the “people” to have a voice, but they refuse to accept that the people have already made their voices heard when they elected Barack Obama, twice.
But that’s not the outcome the Republicans wanted, so they want to just hold all those spots open for the next president — someone they hope will be more like them.
The idea that Senate Republicans are perfectly willing to leave our highest court short-handed for nearly a year is pretty shocking, but it shouldn’t be. For more than seven years, they have waged an unrelenting campaign to keep key positions throughout government empty. Republican leader McConnell recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “[o]n issues of great national significance, one party should never simply force its will on everybody else.”
That’s pretty rich coming from a guy who’s spent years trying to do exactly that.
Consider this: Fewer district and circuit court judges were confirmed in President Obama’s first term than in the first terms of the previous three presidents, thanks to Senate Republicans’ stall-and-delay strategy. A majority of Obama’s uncontroversial first-term judicial nominees — those who were both reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmed by the full Senate overwhelmingly — took over 200 days to be confirmed.
And since Republicans took charge of the Senate in 2015, judicial confirmations have virtually ground to a halt. According to the Alliance for Justice, Senate Republicans are “on pace for the lowest number of judicial confirmations in more than 60 years.”
Republicans have also actively blocked nominations for important jobs in government, including the Pentagon, the Justice Department and environmental, worker and consumer watchdogs, often leaving parts of government without leaders for months and months. In 2015, there were fewer civilian confirmations than in any first session of Congress in nearly 30 years.
Republican senators say their Supreme Court blockade is about “the people.” But it’s really about catering to their party’s extremists.
Extremism in the Senate has fueled extremism in the Republican presidential race. There is little separation between the extremism driving Republican obstruction of confirmations in Congress and Donald Trump reveling in trying to avoid taxes because he doesn’t want to throw his money “down the drain.”
There is little separation between Senate Republicans who hamstring agency after agency and court after court by refusing to confirm nominees because they don’t like the guy doing the nominating, and a narrow-minded bully who’s happy for millions to lose their homes so long as he can make an extra buck. The extremism of Senate Republicans nourished the growth of extremist candidates — and now one sits atop their presidential ticket.
The Obama administration is in its last year. Thus far, the legacy of congressional Republicans during that administration adds up to one single, unifying principle: if government isn’t working for Republicans and their right-wing allies, they won’t let it work for anyone.
But it’s not too late. In the last months of the administration, Senate Republicans could ditch the extremism and start governing. They could start by holding a hearing on Judge Garland’s nomination. Then, they could hold a vote.
Republicans should do their jobs. If they don’t, the nomination of Donald Trump won’t be the last time their extremism undermines the well-being of both the Republican Party and this great nation.