Senate Dems launch ‘bad optics’ campaign against GOP

By Hannah Hess | 03/18/2016 06:56 AM EDT

The Supreme Court nomination fight will intensify over the Senate’s two-week recess, Democrats said yesterday, previewing plans to turn up the volume on their "do your job" campaign.

Even though at least two top Republicans — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa — have personally told federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland they will not be moving forward with hearings or a vote on his nomination, Democrats will try to keep the debate simmering outside the Beltway.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) told reporters he has two or three events planned back home in Nevada involving petitions "signed by lots of people." Reid added, "My caucus is doing them all around the country."

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GOP senators, even those who expressed openness to meeting with Garland, maintain they will stick to their guns through at least the November election.

"It’s the fair thing to do, it’s the right thing to do," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters. "It shouldn’t be in this toxic atmosphere. You can see how everybody is just mad at everybody else, and, you know, that’s not the way to select a Supreme Court justice."

Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said each senator could make their own decision on how to treat Garland, "but I don’t see the point of having that meeting if we’ve determined, as we have, that we’re not going to proceed to process the nomination, so I think it would be really more symbolic than anything else."

Other Republicans split with their leadership on the reasons why Garland should not fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

"Some have said that, you know, it should be the next president who decides. That’s not my issue," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said yesterday. "The principle is maintaining balance on the court."

Defying opinion polls suggesting blocking Obama from appointing a ninth justice could prove politically perilous, Flake thinks voters can understand the principle behind replacing Scalia, an outspoken conservative, with a jurist of a similar ideology.

"We know because of what they’ve said that if the shoe were on the other foot, Democrats would be doing the same things. The optics are never good, but if it’s something you believe in, you know, you stick to it," Flake said.

Reid and others will be making the most out of those bad optics.

A medical doctor, a nurse and a heavy equipment operator joined Democrats for a press conference on the Supreme Court plaza yesterday to rail against Republicans for not doing their "job." They say the majority has a constitutional duty to at least hold a hearing to consider the nominee.

"The fact is, if we hold to precedent, it should take about 60 days," Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said following an afternoon meeting in his office with Garland.

Leahy suggested that if senators spent more time on Capitol Hill, they could find time for the procedure of considering and voting on a nominee. Republicans, he said, have put too many recess weeks on the schedule this year.

"Cancel a couple, do the job," Leahy said.

All 46 senators who caucus with Democrats may have a chance to meet with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit judge, creating ample opportunities for grandstanding.

At least a handful of Republicans have also said they are open to sitting down with Garland, but most remain opposed.

"I don’t plan on meeting with anybody who is running for Supreme Court," Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said. "Obviously, this is an election. … [W]e are in essence running for the Supreme Court along with the presidency at the same time."

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