It would seem that nothing would be more deserving of a weary “So what else is new?” response than news of new partisan hypocrisy.
You may think I am referring to the denunciation by the Democrats — speaking as one, or at least as a gaggle who share the same scriptwriter — of the Republicans who are gearing up to force a vote on a new Supreme Court justice before the midterm elections even though they refused to allow a vote on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, until after the presidential election.
If so, you are only half right. But let’s begin by looking at that half, something that in any event is unavoidable because it has dominated the news since Justice Kennedy announced his retirement. Leading the pack, of course, has been Senator Schumer (of whom it has been frequently said that the most dangerous place to be in Washington is between Sen. Schumer and a camera). “Our Republican colleagues in the Senate should follow the rule they set in 2016 not to consider a Supreme Court nominee in an election year,” Sen. Schumer recently declared. “Anything but that would be the absolute height of hypocrisy.”
Sen. Schumer was hardly alone. NBC News headlined its coverage of the issue, “Dems to McConnell: Vote on Kennedy Replacement after midterms, stop the hypocrisy.” The Democrats, NBC reported, “spoke with one loud voice: Wait until after the midterm elections…. Democrats cried foul as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed Wednesday to push ahead with the confirmation of Kennedy’s replacement before November’s elections — despite refusing to advance President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee ahead of the 2016 presidential race.”
Kennedy’s announcement was “only a few hours old,” the Washington Post reported, when the Democrats launched “a barrage of hypocrisy charges…. Democrats are accusing them of going back on what they said in 2016, when they blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination because of the impending election.” According to one of those Democrats, Sen. Diane Feinstein, “4 months away from an election, there should be no consideration of a Supreme Court nominee until the American people have a say. Leader McConnell set that standard when he denied Judge Garland a hearing for nearly a year, and the Senate should follow the McConnell Standard now.”
The Democrats certainly have a point. The Republicans have replied, as Sen. Orrin Hatch said on CNN, “That was a different situation … it was close to a presidential election … but this is not close (to a presidential election).” Whether or not you think the Republican reply has any weight will probably depend on your own partisan identification. In any event, the charge of Republican hypocrisy has so dominated the news coverage (no doubt unrelated to the fact that it is currently the Democrats’ talking point of preference) that the other half of the partisan hypocrisy story has gone virtually — no, more like actually — remarkably unremarked.
I refer, of course, to what the Democrats shouted in effect yesterday, when they demanded in a voice as loud as today’s saying the opposite that an impending election was no reason to delay a vote on a Supreme Court nominee.
SLATE, as usual, gave full-throated voice to what most Democrats would say if they didn’t have to worry about seeming frothingly extreme. The Republicans’ refusal to vote on Merrick Garland, it shouted, is a “vile, cowardly, opportunistic, grotesquely selfish ploy…. It is difficult to overstate the violence that this blockade has done to truly fundamental norms of American democracy. This scheme is intolerable to our Constitution and our democracy.”
And what, you wonder, did Sen. Schumer say back then? Among other things, that he hoped “saner heads in the Republican Party will prevail on [U.S. Senator] Chuck Grassley and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell to do their job and hold hearings so America can make its own judgment as to whether Merrick Garland belongs on the court.”
And let us not forget the ever-thoughtful, never overly partisan Hillary Clinton, quoted in Fortune:
“Evaluating and confirming a Justice to sit on this nation’s highest court should not be an exercise in political brinkmanship and partisan posturing. It is a serious obligation … That obligation does not depend on the party affiliation of a sitting president, nor does the Constitution make an exception to that duty in an election year.”
I must have missed the two-time non-president’s comments in the past day or so calling for a quick vote on a new nominee.
Nor have I seen such a comment from former president Obama, who the last time around did not hesitate to hector us about our duty (to, among other things, give him what he wanted) in an interview — where else? — on National Public Radio:
One of the most puzzling arguments that I’ve heard from [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and some other Republicans is this notion that the American people should decide. We should let the American people decide as part of this election, who gets to fill this seat,” Obama told NPR. “Well, in fact the American people did decide — back in 2012 when they elected me president of the United States with sufficient electoral votes.
I’m not sure I would call it fake news — or even a coverup of real news — but I do think it is at least worthy of comment that all of today’s coverage is about Democratic charges of Republican hypocrisy even as no attention whatsoever is devoted to evidence that even making that charge now is based on more than a little hypocrisy.
Finally, consider this hypothetical counter-factual: Imagine, if you can, that we had a Democratic president and a very slim, tenuous majority in the Senate that was at risk in a rapidly approaching midterm election. In that situation, do you think the Democrats would be saying what they’re saying now?
Actually, you don’t have to imagine that. All you have to do is recall what they said about the Merrick Garland nomination.