WASHINGTON — One of the Republican Party’s most candid senators, Lindsey Graham (S.C.), admitted Thursday a stark fact that the rest of his colleagues have tried their best to avoid: that their blockade of any Supreme Court nominee by President Barack Obama is unprecedented.
And he insisted that he was going to go along with it, even though he predicted it would worsen relations between the parties and the functioning of the Senate.
“We are setting a precedent here today, Republicans are, that in the last year at least of a lame duck eight-year term — I would say it’s going to be a four-year term — that you’re not going to fill a vacancy of the Supreme Court based on what we’re doing here today,” Graham said in an unusual session of the Judiciary Committee, where members debated not bills or judicial nominees, but Obama’s right to carry out his constitutional powers in an election year.
“We’re headed to changing the rules, probably in a permanent fashion,” he said.
Graham’s blunt assessment came after nearly every other senator on the committee spent their time pointing to hypocritical statements from each other about confirming judges, and citing selective instances in history, to try to bolster their argument about moving a Supreme Court nominee in a president’s last year in office.
But the South Carolina Republican seemed to admit the key argument of Democrats that never has a president’s pick for the Supreme Court been refused a hearing and vote by the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are adamant that they will not allow such a hearing and vote.
Graham said he still supports Grassley’s decision not to hold hearings for Obama’s nominee. But if Hillary Clinton becomes president, which Graham jokingly said would be “hard to believe given the dynamic of the Republican Party now,” he said she will likely put forward a more liberal nominee than Obama. And if that nominee is qualified, Graham says he’ll vote to confirm him or her in the committee and on the Senate floor.
“I voted for [Justices] Sotomayor and Kagan, not because I would have picked them, but because I thought the president of the United States deserves the right to pick the judges of their philosophy,” he said. “That goes with winning the White House.”
Graham added that he’s “saddened” at how partisan the Senate has become, and said his greatest fear is that Democrats and Republicans will find a way — between changing the rules or refusing to confirm Supreme Court picks in any lame-duck year — to no longer work with each other to fill any federal courts. He vowed to do what he can to prevent the judicial confirmation process from becoming purely ideologically driven.
“I’ll be fighting talk radio when somebody on my side puts up a nut job. And they will,” he said. Gesturing to Democrats, he added, “And it’s going to happen on your side, too.”
At the same time Graham was talking about his party setting a new precedent, his colleague, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), was admitting that there was no guiding principle at all. Johnson said on a Wisconsin radio station Thursday morning that if a Republican were president, he would be more accommodating.
“Generally, and this is the way it works out politically, if you’re replacing, if a conservative president’s replacing a conservative justice, there’s a little more accommodation to it,” Johnson said.