WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) explained succinctly Wednesday the reason he and many other Democrats believe Republicans are stonewalling President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee: personal animosity toward the commander in chief.
Within hours of the news of Justice Antonin Scalia's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared the Senate would confirm no nominee to replace the late associate justice. He said the vacancy shouldn't be filled until a new president is in office.
Since then, opinion polls and editorials have generally come down in favor of the Senate doing its normal job of voting on Supreme Court nominees, regardless of how much time the president has left in his term.
Durbin said the move to oppose Obama and the public shows very clearly that the GOP is not interested in even-handedness or governing.
"If there was any question about obstruction in the United States Senate, what’s happening with the vacancy on the Supreme Court is Exhibit A of Republican obstructionism," the Senate assistant minority leader said after meeting with Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland. "That they would create this atmosphere, and deny to this nominee an opportunity that’s been given to every presidential nominee in the history of the United States, shows the lengths that they’ll go to to stop this president from being our president and performing his responsibilities under the Constitution."
And that the GOP is doing it in spite of how it makes the party look shows that the move doesn't come from some principled place, according to Durbin.
“I’ll say what the president probably will not say. I believe it is personal," Durbin said. "I believe it’s a decision made by Republicans to deny to President Barack Obama his authority and his constitutional opportunity to fill this vacancy.”
He added that it's been part of a pattern of animosity by the GOP, made clear in 2010 when McConnell proclaimed his top mission was making Obama a one-term president.
"There was a conscious decision by many in the Republican Party … to stop this president whatever he tried to achieve. It’s extremely personal," Durbin said.
Garland, a veteran judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has been making the visits to lawmakers that are traditional practice ahead of Supreme Court nomination hearings, even though McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have said there will be no hearings.
There has been some softening in the GOP opposition. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) met with Garland and favor hearings. And Republicans who at first said they would not meet with Garland are doing so, including Grassley, who is expected to talk with the judge next week.
Other Republicans planning sit-downs are Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.).
Flake is one of the Judiciary Committee members who signed a letter saying they opposed confirming any high court nominee in Obama's final year.
Some observers on the left have complained that Garland is too centrist, and while Durbin praised Garland profusely, he allowed that he sensed the same level of erudition and command of the law in Garland that he saw in current Chief Justice John Roberts, whose nomination was championed by conservatives.
Durbin suggested that's one reason Republicans are reluctant to meet Garland.
"I think that’s one of the problems the Republicans have," Durbin said. "They just know when they sit down and get to know him and understand his background, it’s virtually impossible to say this man is not qualified to serve in this position."
Some liberals see a silver lining in the GOP obstruction because it would leave an opportunity for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to appoint a more liberal nominee, even while Democrats' electoral chances benefit from their being able to point to that same obstruction.
Durbin declined to speculate, but he admitted Republicans might want to think about all the angles.
"In terms of what lies ahead, I can’t say, but I would hope the members of the Judiciary Committee in particular, who were asked to sign a letter by Sen. McConnell, will have second thoughts," he said.