Mitch McConnell’s Last Stand

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Custer’s last stand, also known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, was an epic battle between several Indian tribes and the U.S. Army well over a hundred years ago. Another battle is shaping up in the U.S. Senate, but instead of Commander George Custer we have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell trying to hold off the pesky rebels.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent passing created a vacancy on the high court. And the political jockeying regarding a replacement has begun.

McConnell immediately announced, “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” Notice that he said ‘should’ and not ‘would.’ Only a word, but even small words have meanings. Contract lawyers are paid hundreds of dollars per hour to analyze and finesse single words and commas in legal documents, so Senator McConnell, with his law degree, understands these distinctions. Wiggle room.

McConnell is actually correct as there is ample precedent for rejecting Supreme Court nominees in a President’s lame duck session. The question is whether the Senate will hold firm or fold like a cheap suit.

Cracks are already developing in the GOP caucus. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley “didn’t rule out confirmation hearings and a vote by his panel on an Obama selection.” More wiggle room.

Another GOP Senator, Thom Tillis, fears “that his party risks being seen as ‘obstructionist’ in a fight over Supreme Court nominations with President Obama.” Obstructionist as in how the Democrats blocked Robert Bork’s nomination? Even more wiggle room.

But hearings and a vote don’t mean automatic confirmation. Except they did for two recent liberal Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. What if Obama nominates a Cass Sunstein type jurist to the high court?

Can we expect statements similar to Senator Richard Lugar’s comments supporting his vote in favor of Justice Sotomayor? “Judge Sotomayor is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and she has demonstrated a judicial temperament during her week-long nomination hearing.”

The current Republican Congress has a habit of talking tough but acting weak. Despite promises to rein in government spending and cut the deficit, the GOP passes bloated budgets and raises the debt limit to accommodate their spending spree. They express outrage over Planned Parenthood but fully fund their fetus chop shop.  Will the Supreme Court nomination be any different?

Harry Reid sure thinks so. “He expects the Senate Republicans will ‘cave in’ and hold hearings over President Barack Obama’s eventual nominee to the Supreme Court.”

And he is not alone. Voters are distrustful of the GOP Congress to offer anything other than lip service against the Obama agenda. Their track record of campaign promises to stop or reverse the Democrats is dismal. The GOP left a leadership vacuum being filled by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Would Donald Trump or Ted Cruz nominate another Antonin Scalia? Cruz more likely than Trump, in my opinion. But remember that George HW Bush gave us liberal David Souter and George W Bush gave us John Roberts, pivotal in upholding Obamacare.

This Supreme Court vacancy may be the last chance for the GOP as an opposition party. McConnell’s last stand against Obama’s imperial presidency.

The GOP establishment remains puzzled as to why their favorite candidates are losing, and losing badly, to Trump and Cruz. Voters don’t want Obama’s “fundamental transformation of America” and realize that a fifth confirmed liberal Supreme Court justice may complete this transformation.

This is a pivotal moment for Mitch McConnell. His last stand. Will he fight or go the way of George Custer at Little Bighorn?

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based retina surgeon, radio personality, and writer. Follow him on Facebook  and Twitter.