Senate Republicans will convene this week for the first time with the hope of getting all on the same page on how best to handle the Supreme Court vacancy left after the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Republicans’ messaging had been all over the map since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) said the chamber wouldn’t even consider any nominee put forward by President Obama.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has been the most confusing of all. First, he came out in favor of McConnell’s hardline approach. Then, he hedged and said he hadn’t decided if a Supreme Court pick would get a confirmation hearing with his panel. But he followed that flip-flop by co-authoring a Washington Post op-ed with McConnell saying voters should weigh in on the choice via the ballot box next November.
“Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” the pair said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), a member of the Judiciary panel, warned his colleagues they could “fall into the trap of being obstructionist” if the refuse to hear out the president.
Others, like Sens. Dean Heller (NV) and Dan Coats (IN), have broken with the rest of the GOP and said lawmakers should consider whomever Obama nominates. All 54 member of the Republican caucus will meet Tuesday for their weekly caucus lunch and try to get their strategy straightened out.
Whatever path the GOP chooses will have serious consequences in the both presidential and Senatorial elections, as the ideological tilt of Supreme Court riles up the base of both parties as few other issues can.
Democrats need to net five Senate seats in 2016 to regain the majority, and if Republicans lose their advantage and the race for the White House as well, they could be forced to accept a nominee who might be more liberal than the one proposed by Obama.
While GOP lawmakers weigh their options, conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt signaled that many in the party’s base are willing to pay any price to keep a liberal off the bench.
“I will say one thing has changed dramatically, which is the Supreme Court vacancy and it will reshape the race on my side because I'd rather lose an election than lose the Supreme Court,” he said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.