GOP duck and run

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

WASH­ING­TON — Mer­rick Gar­land is an oppo re­searcher’s night­mare.

Those who op­pose Pres­i­dent Obama’s Supreme Court nom­i­nee have been dig­ging for dirt to jus­tify op­po­si­tion by 52 of the 54 Se­nate Repub­li­cans to grant­ing him a hear­ing. But about the worst thing any­body has come up with: an al­le­ga­tion that Gar­land crossed lanes in a re­lay race. In sum­mer camp. Fifty years ago.

“I be­gan to chase Mer­rick down, nar­row­ing the lead to about five yards with about 70 yards to go,” Fred Eisen­ham­mer, who went to day camp with Gar­land, wrote re­cently in the Chicago Tri­bune. “Mer­rick cut to the left in front of me be­fore veer­ing back on course. I stag­gered to avoid crash­ing into him” and never caught up.

The ac­cuser ac­knowl­edged that the “adult leader” did not dis­qual­ify Gar­land’s re­lay team. But still: “Did Mer­rick Gar­land get away with some­thing dur­ing that re­lay race?” Eisen­ham­mer asked. “Was it in­ten­tional?”

It may be time to em­panel a select com­mit­tee.

The re­lay race scan­dal — a sign that Gar­land op­po­nents are com­ing up empty — helps to vin­di­cate Obama’s choice: With Repub­li­cans re­fus­ing even to con­sider a nom­i­nee, the pres­i­dent chose some­body so an­o­dyne, so be­yond re­proach, that those who won’t grant him a hear­ing look peev­ish and petty. I’m not con­vinced it’s the best strat­egy (Gar­land is too mod­er­ate to in­spire Demo­cratic vot­ers, and Repub­li­cans won’t con­firm him any­way), but Democrats be­lieve the un­ob­jec­tion­able nom­i­nee will make Repub­li­cans up for re-elec­tion vul­ner­a­ble to the crit­i­cism that they aren’t do­ing their jobs.

At the very least, Gar­land is mak­ing them squirm. En­dan­gered Mark Kirk of Illi­nois joins Su­san Collins, a Maine mod­er­ate, as the only two GOP sen­a­tors call­ing for hear­ings. Two other Repub­li­can sen­a­tors up for re-elec­tion — Jerry Moran of Kansas and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — said that Gar­land should get a hear­ing, be­fore con­ser­va­tive pres­sure co­erced them to re­cant.

Other Repub­li­can sen­a­tors fac­ing vot­ers in Novem­ber — Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Charles E. Grass­ley (Iowa), Patrick J. Toomey (Penn­syl­va­nia), Kelly Ay­otte (New Hamp­shire), Rob Port­man (Ohio) and Ron John­son (Wis­con­sin) — have said they would sit down with Gar­land, even if they aren’t con­sid­er­ing hear­ings. “If I can meet with a dic­ta­tor in Uganda, I can surely meet with a de­cent per­son in Amer­ica,” Grass­ley rea­soned. Now what the heck Idi Amin by that? Demo­cratic sen­a­tors, re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton af­ter a two-week re­cess, picked up the Gar­land drum­beat Tues­day. Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid of Ne­vada and Mi­nor­ity Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illi­nois be­gan the day with floor speeches de­nounc­ing the re­fusal to con­sider Gar­land.

They got sup­port in that po­si­tion from Collins, who met with Gar­land for an hour Tues­day morn­ing, while 50 pho­tog­ra­phers and jour­nal­ists waited out­side. “The meet­ing left me more con­vinced than ever that the process should pro­ceed” with hear­ings, Collins said af­ter the ses­sion.

Collins said she wasn’t op­ti­mistic that her GOP col­leagues would change their minds. “But I think if more of my col­leagues sit down with Judge Gar­land that they are go­ing to be im­pressed with him,” she said, sin­gling out Grass­ley.

The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee has gamely tried to sully the nom­i­nee but has come up with noth­ing more dam­ag­ing than say­ing, “Judge Gar­land was viewed as lib­eral enough by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to be con­sid­ered for at­tor­ney gen­eral.”

But the Repub­li­can sen­a­tors’ var­i­ous dodges sug­gest they don’t feel com­fort­able op­pos­ing hear­ings for Gar­land. Grass­ley is sched­ul­ing a pri­vate break­fast with the nom­i­nee so he likely won’t be pho­tographed in the act. Sim­i­larly, Sen. John Booz­man of Arkansas sched­uled an unan­nounced meet­ing with Gar­land at his of­fice Tues­day af­ter­noon, with­out cam­eras.

The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Mike DeBo­nis and other col­leagues can­vassed all 54 Se­nate Repub­li­cans and found that at least 16 plan to meet with Gar­land, while three said they would sup­port a con­fir­ma­tion vote on Gar­land dur­ing a lame-duck ses­sion af­ter the elec­tion if a Demo­crat wins the pres­i­dency, and an ad­di­tional 20 didn’t rule out a lame-duck vote.

But they may not get that chance. If Hil­lary Clin­ton wins the pres­i­dency, and if GOP in­tran­si­gence on Gar­land helps Democrats re­take the Se­nate, there will be pres­sure from the left to drop Gar­land and to have Clin­ton name a much more lib­eral can­di­date.

“It would be ironic,” Collins said Tues­day, “if the next pres­i­dent hap­pens to be a Demo­crat and chooses some­one who is far to Judge Gar­land’s left.”

The good judge could con­sider it de­layed pay­back for what he did in that re­lay race 50 years ago.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

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