WASHINGTON -- Republicans have a new talking point for why they refuse to move forward on any Supreme Court nominee this year: They are doing it for the sake of the nominee.
Since news broke of Justice Antonin Scalia's death Saturday, Republicans have lined up behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has promised not to even consider a nominee put forth by President Barack Obama. He wants to allow the next president to chose a candidate, hoping a Republican will win the White House.
GOP senators have tried to point to historical precedent to back up their stance -- even though there's no evidence that presidents forgo nominating candidates in their final year.
Now, recalcitrant Republicans are shifting their arguments and trying to convince Democrats that because the hearings are doomed to fail, making someone go through them would be unnecessarily cruel.
"I think that hearing would end up very politicized. And I don't think it would be fair to the nominee," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday during a CNN town hall event.
"It would be a denigration of that person's reputation not by Republicans -- I think more by Democrats than Republicans," added Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) made a similar argument to The Associated Press on Thursday, although his concern was over putting the American public through what would, he believed, be nothing more than a charade.
"[I]t might be just as well not to have a hearing that would, sort of, might mislead the American people into thinking that this is just about the qualifications of the candidate, because it's bigger than that," Toomey said.
In other words, because the GOP is committed to trying to stop Obama from changing the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court in the wake of the conservative Scalia's death, the only outcome is one that would be personally damaging to the nominee. The credentials of the president's nominee are irrelevant, and will only be tarnished by Senate hearings.
But in the days since McConnell first announced his intent to obstruct, GOP senators have been peeling away and indicating a willingness to vote or hold a hearing.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) initially echoed McConnell, but has since said he isn't ruling out holding a hearing on a nominee.
Democrats have relished publicly shaming the GOP for their refusal to move.
"I think my Republican counterpart McConnell has made a terrible mistake by saying that he is going to ignore the president. ... The president was re-elected for a four-year term, not a three-year term," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said during a town hall event Wednesday.
During a press conference Tuesday, Obama reiterated that he absolutely intends to nominate a new justice and expects the Senate to consider that person on his or her merits.
"We’ve almost grown accustomed to a situation that is almost unprecedented -- where every nomination is contested, everything is blocked regardless of how qualified the person is, even when there’s no ideological objection to them, certainly where there’s no disqualifying actions by the nominee that have surfaced," Obama said. "The fact that it's that hard, that we're even discussing this, is, I think, a measure of how, unfortunately, the venom and rancor in Washington has prevented us from getting basic work done."
The issue is already playing out in the 2016 elections. Democrats have a shot at taking back the Senate, and are betting that the GOP senators' reactions will turn off moderate and independent voters.
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