Some folks call President Obama’s move to nominate appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by Antonin Scalia’s sudden passing, a master stroke or a “gangster” move – legally speaking.
And by no means, I am a judicial expert or someone whom claims to have any remote legal expertise. So what I am collating here is simply an analysis of the current situation juxtaposed with what I see as possible distribution of powers after the elections this year in November, all viewed through a thin prism of my political understanding.
Merrick Garland is a widely liked judge. Someone whose record has been praised multiple times by many GOP senators in the past. Apparently, his name has always come up in the shortlist of potential future nominees put together by Senate Republicans. Even though he is considered a moderate (not a liberal or a progressive), his reputation has been spotless so far. So, when it comes to voting up or down, many Republicans simply can’t come to terms with voting a “No” to Judge Garland.
Obama 1 : Senate GOP – 0.
Now, we all know the real issue here is Mitch McConnell’s obfuscating obstructionism. Not just McConnell, the entire lot has been caught in the grip. It is very understandable. The GOP senators fear losing their majority status come November. 34 senate seats are up for grabs this November and 24 of them are currently GOP seats. All Democrats need is to win 4-5 of them to take control of the senate in 2016. So, with the majority of the country (close to 70%) not being on the side of Mitch McConnell and his SCOTUS nomination obstructionist actions, there are these vulnerable senators from this basket of 24, who are worried about retaining their seats. I mean they arboreally worried because this is a real issue for their constituents.
And Obama’s tactics of throwing Merrick Garland at them is really like telling them “Hey, you know what’s going to happen in November. You are not going to win the Presidency. At least, try to keep your senate majority…and believe me you are not going to get anyone better than Judge Garland..”. This is not a high risk strategy. A calculated strategy. As it turns out, it is already working. Senator Kirk (IL) was the first one to agree to meet with Garland earlier today (breaking away from McConnell). As I type this post, the number of Republican senators likely to agree to meet with Garland is anywhere between 6 to 8.
Wow! That’s progress. Don’t you think?
Obama 2 : Senate GOP – 0.
Now, what if Obama’s calculated risk doesn’t pay off? What if the obstructionists prevail till November somehow and Garland’s nomination doesn’t come up for vote at all?
This is where it gets interesting.
This election has been like nothing we have seen before.
If Trump becomes the GOP nominee, going by the love we all know the GOP senators have for him, it will be a lose – lose situation for the senators, because everyone agrees (implicitly in some cases) that a Trump (or even a Cruz) nomination guarantees a Democratic Presidency. Most likely a Hillary Presidency. If that happens, no matter what happens in the senate races, Obama could simply withdraw the nomination and let Hillary take control of the nomination process come January 2017. Then Hillary has all the freedom in the world to push the GOP senators in her first year to get her pick processed. If anyone were to guess, it would be one of those progressive nominees.
(Please see the attached picture for all the possible scenarios that I am predicting).
Obama 3 : Senate GOP – 0.
If GOP breaks into two before November and we have a three way tie to Presidency, it is bad news for the 24 Republican senators. There is every chance that the Democrats will take control of the senate. In addition, a three way tie is the equivalent of serving the Presidency on a gold platter, elegantly gift wrapped to Hillary Clinton. So, Hillary will get to do whatever she wants with the nomination in the shortest possible time after she takes office.
Obama 4 : Senate GOP – 0.
Now, I really think President Obama is prepared to play the long game. He is not too concerned if his legacy should necessarily include one more SCOTUS Justice nomination or not. Yes, it would not be a bad thing to add 3 justices to his legacy, but the pragmatic leader he is (btw, have you read the Obama Doctrine? If not, do read it..), he is absolutely comfortable to hand it over to the next Democratic President and have him/her take that credit.
By choosing Judge Merrick Garland (and not Loretta Lynch or Sri Srinivasan or a few others as I have listed in the picture attached), Obama has carefully avoided falling into the trap of his critics who could have gone on the record claiming..”There he is! A nominee who was selected not so much for his/her jurisprudence but more as a way to balance out the diversity in the courtroom because Obama is black..”. And by choosing a relatively moderate nominee, the POTUS is also playing it safe to his own base, even though his own base would much rather have preferred a progressive woman nominee or someone with a minority background with progressive leanings. He realizes that there is a good chance that Merrick Garland may not get confirmed till November, which means he could turn it over to Hillary and simply withdraw Judge Garland from the race. That is not good news for Garland (after seeing him get a bit emotional today, I would feel really bad for him should this situation arise), but this is part of the political game and he shouldn’t be surprised one bit that he could become a pawn in that play. An experienced scholar law he is, I am sure he is fully aware of what he is getting into.
Final thoughts: I am a learner of politics. I am fascinated by political negotiations in general and strategies that politicians resort to outsmart their opponents. But at the end of the day, it is intelligent, smart and socially conscious politicians whom I admire the most. Politicians and leaders who think, articulate their thoughts clearly and are genuinely intelligent & humble are characteristics that I respect the most. Barack Obama is one such politician whom I have had the opportunity to follow & learn from. I respect him because he possesses most of what I admire in politicians.
His political acumen is often overshadowed by his oratory skills. His shrewd understanding of the world and a realistic assertion of where United States should be in the world map are often overshadowed by a perceived foreign policy weakness, as ably projected by his critics. His flamboyance is given more media coverage than his thorough scholarly approach he takes to governance.
I believe he truly believes in the goodness of people and genuinely thinks negativity can be wiped out by positivity. Some may call it naive and some may call it arrogance. But as far as I am concerned, it is simply his political smartness. He has used this as a weapon of sorts often during his past seven years to outmaneuver his opponents, every time he has run into a situation like what he is in now with the SCOTUS nomination.
Interesting times ahead.
Postscript: By the way, President Obama’s decision to announce his nomination today is a stroke of genius as well. A day after March 15. On 03/15, Trump won 4 primaries and kicked the establishment favorite Rubio out of the race. Even though he is a presumptive nominee right now, the establishment doesn’t want to make it easy for him. So, there are already discussions on a potential contested convention, with Trump threatening of riots should he be denied the nomination. All this makes the GOP presidential field a live wire and what better day to throw a match stick into the field than today?