Amidst all the chaos going on over the presidential elections, nobody expected that it can get any worse than it already was, but fate has this odd way of spicing things up when you expect it the least. As you’ve all probably heard already, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia lost his life to a heart attack on February 13, 2016, in Texas, and left behind a seat in the Supreme Court that both the Democrats and the Republicans are now furiously fighting over. It doesn’t seem that the battle will end anytime soon. President Barack Obama has announced that he will make sure to elect the new candidate and the whole Democratic Party wholeheartedly agrees with him while the Republicans are arguing that the decision is not his to make, seeing as he will be leaving office in January 2017.
So, what is actually going on here? People who have seen past battles with GOP lawmakers report a familiar pattern unfolding: the Republicans have unexpected access to what was supposed to be an untenable position and the conflicts that are rising could cause some serious political pressure, as well as internal strife. All that is left now is to wait and see if history will repeat itself and if Obama will succeed in making a third appointment to the nation’s highest court – an appointment that can easily tip the ideological balance for the first time in…a very, very long time.
Senator Lisa Murkowski
For now, it would seem that the Democrats are comfortable with their current position – they believe that they have the upper hand and that the Republicans will devour themselves as a result of internal conflict and instability. Statements made by both Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Charles E. Grassley indicate a break from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said that Obama shouldn’t even have the right to make a nomination but should leave the choice to his successor. In fact, some Republicans have gone as far as to call upon the GOP-controlled Senate to refuse to hold confirmation hearings on the President’s nominee. Ouch.
However, Vice President Joe Biden thinks that the Republicans are the worst choice imaginable when it comes to this particular position. Here’s what he said:
“Republicans will not be able to sustain this position, they are absolutely, thoroughly, totally irresponsible.”
Democrats are absolutely confident that if they manage to remain unified, together they will be able to push McConnell to give the President’s nominee a hearing and a vote. A Democratic congressional aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, commented on the current situation. Here’s what he said:
“There’s no daylight between any part of the caucus on this, so you start from a position of unity where the Republicans are divided. Each day there is one or two other people who hedge their support for McConnell, or flat out backs off of it.”
In 2015, only a few months into the new Republican-controlled Congress, a group of conservatives demanded that all funding for the Department of Homeland Security is to be put to a halt until the President reversed an executive action to defer deportations for up to 4 million illegal immigrants. Just days before a dreaded departmental shutdown, the agency’s budget was approved without any restrictions. In 2013, Senator Ted Cruz pushed the party into a budget “duel” over demands to defund Obamacare. The result was, as House Speaker John Boehner so aptly put it a year and a half ago, a “predictable disaster” and the Republicans bore most of the blame for the shutdown.
By Fibonacci Blue, via Wikimedia Commons
The Democrats cite examples that are rather similar, including threats to end funding for Planned Parenthood, which had only GOP’s conservative and establishment wings fighting as a result. The Democrats strengthened their resolve even further and stood united on the sidelines. Senator Charles E. Schumer added:
“We’ve seen this movie before. The bottom line is very simple: When the hard right doesn’t get its way, their immediate reaction is shut it down, and Sen. McConnell marches in lockstep. That’s what happened in 2013 when the Republican leadership tried to shut down the government. They’re doing it today with their attempt to shut down the Supreme Court.”
To sum it up – it’s a storm that doesn’t look like it will pass anytime soon. The results? Nobody knows for sure.