There's a vacancy on the most important court in America, and the message from Senate Republicans is crystal clear: forget the Constitution. For Senate Republicans, it does not matter who President Obama nominates because they will allow no votes and will hold no hearings on that nominee. Their response to one of the most solemn and consequential tasks that our government performs is to pretend that the nominee—and President Obama himself—do not exist.
At the same time that they are blocking all possible Supreme Court nominees, Senate Republicans are in a panic because their party appears to be on a path to nominate one of two extremists for president—extremists who attack the legitimacy of their political opponents and demean millions of Americans. Senate Republicans worry that, if either candidate is selected to be the party's standard-bearer, the Republican party will lose in November.
"Extremists might not like it, but Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 by nine million votes and won re-election in 2012 by five million votes. There were no recounts or hanging chads, no stuffing the ballot box or tampering with voting machines, no intervention from the Supreme Court. President Obama was elected the legitimate president seven years ago, and he is the legitimate president right now."
Republicans' stance on Supreme Court nominees and their response to the extremists at the top of their party's ticket are the same issue. And the solution is simple. If Republican Senators want to stand up to extremists running for president, they can start by standing up to extremists in the Senate. They can start by doing their jobs.
Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution says that the president nominates justices to the Supreme Court, with the advice and consent of the Senate. There is no secret clause that says "...except when that president is a Democrat." If Senators object to a nominee's qualifications, they can vote no and explain themselves to the American people. Although President Obama and I are members of the same political party, I haven't agreed with every single nomination he's made—and I have made my objections clear. That's how advice and consent works: learn about the nominees, and then use your best, good faith judgment to evaluate their qualifications.
But for seven years, Republican Senators have bowed to extremists who reject President Obama's legitimacy and abuse the Senate rules in an all-out effort to cripple the Administration and paralyze the federal courts. Republican extremists aren't voting against individuals based on a good faith judgment about a specific person. They are blocking votes wholesale in order to keep those jobs vacant and undermine the government itself.
For years, Republicans have delayed confirmation votes on government officials across the board. In 2013, only one year into the president's second term, Republican leaders flatly rejected the president's authority to confirm any judges to fill any of three open seats on the second-highest court in the country. Democrats had to change the filibuster rules to move nominees forward. Once Republicans took over the Senate in 2015, judicial confirmations nearly ground to a halt.
The same is true for non-judicial nominees. Republicans have held up the president's nominees to run the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency, largely on the suspicion that those highly-qualified individuals might actually help those agencies do their work. Republicans have held up nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans regularly hold up the confirmation of dozens of ambassadors, undermining our national security and our relationships with other nations.
Last year, Republicans blocked confirmation of the Attorney General, the highest law enforcement official in the country, for 166 days. That is longer than it took the Senate to consider the prior seven Attorneys General combined.
The message from Senate Republicans couldn't be clearer: no matter how much it damages the nation, no matter how much it undermines our courts, no matter how much it cripples our government or lays waste to our Constitution, they will not acknowledge the legitimacy of our democratically-elected president.
For too long, Senate Republicans have wanted it both ways. They want to nullify the Obama presidency while claiming that they can govern responsibly. That game is over. Extremist candidates motivated by bigotry and resentment are on the verge of winning the Republican Party's nomination for president, and Republican Senators must now make a decision.
Because here's the deal: extremists might not like it, but Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 by nine million votes and won re-election in 2012 by five million votes. There were no recounts or hanging chads, no stuffing the ballot box or tampering with voting machines, no intervention from the Supreme Court. President Obama was elected the legitimate president seven years ago, and he is the legitimate president right now.
So if it's true that some Republican Senators are finally ready to stand up to the extremism that denies the legitimacy of this president and of the Constitution, I say to them: do your job. Vote on a Supreme Court nominee. Vote on District Court judges and Circuit Court judges. Vote on ambassadors. Vote on agency leaders and counterterrorism officials.
If Senate Republicans want to stop extremism in their party, they can start by showing the American people that they respect the president and the Constitution enough to do their job in the United States Senate.