WASHINGTON • Is Sen. Roy Blunt’s position against serious consideration of President Barack Obama’s upcoming Supreme Court nominee hurting him among state voters?
And is his position — that Obama is entitled to a nominee but that the Republican Senate should turn it down so the next president can choose — contrary to the criticism he leveled against Democrats for blocking legislation and not following Senate “regular order” on spending decisions, thereby cutting off the debate-and-vote traditions of what was once described as the world’s most deliberative body, when Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., held the gavel?
On the first question, Democrats think the answer is a resounding yes, and they’ve already made it a campaign issue. A Democratic political action committee is dumping $130,000 worth of ads on state airwaves critical of Blunt’s position. A Democratic-leaning pollster last week released a poll of Missourians showing that independent voters, by 60 percent to 38 percent, want a new justice named this year, and that even a quarter of Missouri Republicans agree with that.
Democrats are also attacking Republican incumbents in other potentially competitive Senate races in Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona and North Carolina for the GOP position in automatically denying Obama to have this replacement. Those states are pivotal in which party controls the Senate next year. In the refusal to seriously consider Obama’s nominee, Republicans are gambling that they hold on to the Senate and that their nominee wins the presidency. Or that any nominee chosen by Hillary Clinton, if she wins the Democratic nomination and the White House, would be more constitutionally moderate than one chosen by Obama. On a possible Bernie Sanders presidency, the Republican strategy is less clear.
Republican foot-dragging on filling the court vacancy runs against national tides. Independent national polls show pluralities or small majorities saying they want the position filled in 2016. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Tuesday, 55 percent of registered voters nationally disapprove of the Republicans’ move to block hearings to even consider a nominee, with only 28 percent approving.
In Blunt’s defense, even while Senate Republican leaders say they are not even likely to have a hearing on Obama’s nomination, Blunt says he would be okay with voting on a nominee — just not approving one in 2016. Even if that nominee were very close to him.
“Even if the president nominated my daughter, who’s a lawyer, to the Supreme Court, I think the American people ought to get to vote and decide if they’d like to see my daughter on the Supreme Court,” Blunt said in Arnold during his recent re-election announcement tour. Put another way, he is saying the real debate on the nomination should come after the new president is elected in November makes his, or her, choice.
Voters will have to decide if that is a consistent position to the ones Blunt took when expressing his disappointment with the lack of progress on spending bills, and other legislation, when Reid and the Democrats controlled the Senate before the 2014 election. Blunt frequently spoke out on the Senate floor against the deliberate restrictions on amendments and debate that he said was designed to protect Obama from having to take tough positions on anything.
Criticizing a clampdown on amendments during Reid’s reign, Blunt said it was contrary to Senate history and what the people expected of their elected leaders. “If you don’t have to defend what you are for, you have a hard time remembering why you are for what you are for,” Blunt told the Post-Dispatch in 2014.
Complaining of the broken appropriations process under Democrats, also in 2014, Blunt said: “We have lost touch with the normal order of things.”
The senator said Wednesday he thinks Missourians understand why this is different, and why it’s important this decision be put off.
“I think it is the right decision to take in a year when people are voting, and voters will be heard on this issue,” he said. “This is a lifetime appointment.”
The late Justice Antonin Scalia, a Reagan court appointee who died last month, “served a quarter of a century after Ronald Reagan left the White House and 10 years after Ronald Reagan died. This nominee is likely to be on the court for a long time.”
He added that while “I certainly wouldn’t mind voting on the nominee that the president has,” he believes a court confirmation fight in Obama’s last year “would take needless time from a Senate that would actually be better focused on things like how we spend our money, looking at the rules and regulations that are out of control.”