Washington Merry-Go-Round

Hatch the key to the Garland nomination

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 16 Mar. 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Hatch the key to the Garland nomination

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – By nominating Merrick Garland, a qualified centrist, to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama improved the odds his candidate will win confirmation from near zero to a bit better. How much better, we should have some idea after lawmakers return from their two week spring recess, which begins next week.

The Republican-controlled Senate declared it wouldn’t take up the nomination of anyone Obama nominated. But Garland is someone Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called a “consensus nominee” when the judge was the runner up to Elena Kagan in 2010. Obama chose Kagan, who was easily confirmed, but Hatch said there would have been “no question” Garland too could have won confirmation.

That occurred six years ago, and Republicans argue a lot has changed since then. But just a few days ago, on March 16, Hatch told the conservative news outlet, NewsMax, “The president told me several times he’s going to name a moderate, but I don’t believe him. [Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man. He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”

Now that Obama has kept his word by nominating a moderate, will Senator Hatch own his comments about Garland being a fine man and a consensus nominee who could win nomination? Or will Hatch toe the line drawn by Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky? Does it matter?

Every time Republican senators stray from the party line, McConnell reins them back. Polls show that two-thirds of the American people think that a nominee for the Supreme Court should receive due consideration by the Senate. Obama in his remarks in the Rose Garden said he was doing his job by nominating someone to fill the Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Scalia, and all he is asking is that the U.S. Senate does its job.

If the Republican leadership refuses to give Garland a hearing and a vote, the GOP may pay a political price. The argument that the next president should make this appointment doesn’t make sense from a conservative or a Republican perspective when considering the next president is likely to be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Hatch is the Judiciary Committee’s longest serving current member, and he was chairman or ranking member from 1993 to 2005. He was among the committee’s 11 Republicans who signed a letter to McConnell pledging not to hold hearings for anyone Obama nominates. But his initial statement on Garland’s nomination portrays the obstruction as a high-minded effort to “keep what should be a serious confirmation discussion from becoming denigrated by the toxic politics of this election season, and it will give the American people a voice in the direction of our nation’s highest court.”

The people have already had a voice in electing Obama not once but twice, and he is president until January 20, 2017, when the new president takes the oath of office. Politics is kinetic and politicians can change when the situation demands. Hatch, now in the twilight of his career, has prided himself on working across the aisle. His friendship with the late Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was much remarked upon because they were such ideological opposites, the liberal lion and the strait-laced Mormon.

What they had in common was respect for each other, and for their colleagues, and for the then-collegial institution in which they served.  In thinking about his legacy, Hatch might consider the impact of the Senate’s action, and whether it’s time to take the long view of history, and think less about short-term political gain. In the end, Hatch’s opinion will indeed matter.

          Douglas Cohn’s new book, “The President’s First Year: None Were Prepared, Some Never Learned – Why the Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency,” is available in book stores.

          Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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