It was never really a matter of whether Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) was going to fall into line and support President Donald Trump’s Banana Republican power grab for the Supreme Court.
It was only a matter of when.
And right on schedule, on Tuesday afternoon, Toomey speedily ditched the slender rationale that allowed him to oppose Judge Merrick Garland’s high court nomination in 2016, as he rushed to embrace a GOP rationale to fill the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat that’s so thin that it’s amazing he didn’t tear a rhetorical rotator cuff doing it.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Republicans have abandoned their argument that the “voters should have their say,” which they used to derail President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick in 2016.
Republicans Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham have taken a weed-whacker to the fictitious rule they invented four years ago, laughably arguing that the rule only counts when the Senate and White House are controlled by opposing parties. This year, with Republicans holding both, it’s no longer applicable.
“Four years ago, I noted that my decision to oppose moving forward with the Supreme Court confirmation process for Judge Merrick Garland was related to the circumstances present at the time,” Toomey said Tuesday in a statement released by his office.
“The circumstances surrounding the current vacancy are, in fact, different. While there is a presidential election this year, the White House and the Senate are currently both controlled by the same party. The Senate’s historical practice has been to fill Supreme Court vacancies in these circumstances,” Toomey added.
Here’s what Toomey said in 2016. You will note that it is conspicuously devoid of any intelligence insulting claptrap about a difference in White House and Senate control.
“The balance of the Supreme Court is at stake, and we have an election right around the corner. With lifetime tenure, the next justice will determine the Court’s balance for a generation,” Toomey wrote in a PennLive op-ed at the time. “In that light, I believe it is sensible to allow the American people to participate in the choice of Justice Scalia’s successor less than seven months from now.”
That’s the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death sparked the first succession crisis and resulted in Justice Neil Gorsuch winning confirmation in a flame-thrower of a confirmation fight.
As The Washington Post columnist George F. Will notes, there’s something primary school-ish about the GOP’s assertion that “Democrats would have done it.” As if that’s justification enough for this nakedly Machiavellian calculation.
If Republicans wanted the seat, they should’ve been up front about their naked avarice in the first place, without cloaking it in pseudo-constitutional reasoning. It would have led to the same firefight, but at least Republicans would have had the virtue of some principle, rather than the plain-English prevarications to which we’re now being treated.
In his eight years in the Senate, Toomey has played the part of the deliberative intellectual. And, indeed, in matters of free trade and gun violence reduction there’s been the bare minimum of independence. In other words, when the risk of political exposure is minimal and the possibility of good headlines are high, Toomey’s been there.
But on the really big stuff, from impeachment to the confirmation of Gorsuch and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, Toomey has fallen right into line.
Four years ago, with his re-election on the line, Toomey tried to play it clever on whether he’d vote for Trump, delaying his announcement until an hour before the polls closed. And when it finally came, Toomey’s ballot choice had an air of depressing inevitability about it.
“In the end, I decided we’ve gotta change the course we’re on, so I voted for Donald Trump,” Toomey said, according to Philadelphia Magazine.
In 2020, Toomey might end up proving himself strangely prescient, with an outraged electorate deciding they’re going to need to change course on the Senate’s Republican majority, and bounce him and his vertebrae-free colleagues out of office.
After all, it is the voters, 2016 Toomey would tell you, who get the final say.