Demonstrators Send McCain Message That He Was "Too Little, Too Late" In Denouncing Trump

When Arizona Senator John McCain and Representative Ann Kirkpatrick took the stage on Monday night for their one and only debate, theirs weren't the only voices heard at PBS studios in Phoenix.

People For the American Way joined Planned Parenthood, ProgressNow, and other Arizona activists to send a clear message to Senator McCain: he jumped the Trump ship too little, too late.

In her remarks outside of the debate, Stacey Champion, PFAW's Arizona Campaign Organizer, pointed out just how dedicated to the Trump cause Senator McCain has been:

For over a year, Donald Trump has pushed racist, sexist, and bigoted attacks against far too many Americans -- and through it all, Sen. McCain continued to pledge to vote for him. He's made clear he stands with Trump and the extreme Republican Party, not Arizonans.

Senator McCain has been just as dedicated to blocking Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and for the same disingenuous political reasons. As we noted on Tuesday, McCain’s "straight talk" on the Supreme Court exposes that his obstruction has never been about “the integrity of the Court” as he claimed, but rather about his desire to play politics with judicial nominations.

Shame on Senator McCain for not doing his job, and for waiting far too long to dump Trump.


McCain's "Straight Talk" Exposes Real Reason for Blocking SCOTUS Nominee

Arizona Sen. John McCain cultivates an image of being a maverick who is straightforward and honest with people.  That’s why he called his old presidential campaign bus “the Straight Talk Express,” and now he’s running for reelection for his Senate seat.

But in a Monday night debate with his Democratic challenger Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, he revealed that he’s been anything but straight about why he refuses to consider Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.  Instead of the Straight Talk Express, he’s been taking his constituents for a ride on the “Duplicity Express.”

For the past eight months, McCain has justified his obstruction by claiming that the American people should have a voice in who fills the vacancy, via the 2016 presidential election.  He seems not to care that he was in fact muzzling the American people, who made a choice in 2012 to give Barack Obama that responsibility for another four years.  He claimed that “[t]his issue is not about any single nominee – it’s about the integrity of the Court.”

But at the debate, McCain revealed that his obstruction has everything to do with the identity of the nominee, and that he might even work to prevent the Court vacancy from being filled by the next president, should it be Hillary Clinton:

We only have eight Supreme Court justices, and I would much rather have eight Supreme Court justices than a [ninth] justice who is liberal …”

Whoa, what about his claim that this wasn’t about any particular nominee, but about “giving people a voice” so the next president can make the selection?

Imagine if, when McCain himself ran for president in 2008, he had stated that certain presidential powers and obligations last only three years rather than four:

  • In the third presidential debate in 2008, McCain would have answered a question about the Supreme Court by saying “I will find the best people in the world -- in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution. And not legislating from the bench. Except during my last year in office.
  • In McCain’s concession speech, he would have noted that the American people had “decid[ed] that Sen. Obama and my old friend, Sen. Joe Biden, should have the honor of leading us for the next four years, except when it comes to the Supreme Court, where the American people have decided Obama and Biden should lead us for only three years.

Of course he didn’t say this.  That’s because he recognized then—and surely recognizes now—that the mandate given by the American people is for four years.

No, his refusal to consider Merrick Garland has everything to do with his dislike for the president who nominated him.  As he stated in 2008, McCain wants a justice like Scalia or Clarence Thomas.  He wants a justice who would:

  • Gut the Voting Rights Act and make voter suppression far easier (Shelby County)
  • Give corporations the right to make unlimited expenditures and contributions to influence elections (Citizens United)
  • Let corporations cite their religious beliefs as an excuse to deprive women of birth control (Hobby Lobby)
  • Refuse to recognize the equality and basic humanity of gays and lesbians (Obergefell, Windsor, Lawrence)
  • Find ways to rule in favor of the wealthy and powerful, regardless of what the law actually requires (too many cases to list)

Since Merrick Garland has given no indication he would be a conservative’s dream, Senator McCain is intent on preventing the Senate from even considering his nomination.  And if we have a President Hillary Clinton for the next four years, McCain has already said he prefers an 8-member Court to one with a nominee who he disagrees with.

How’s that for a principled, “straight talking” senator?  Refuse to move on the president’s nomination to the Supreme Court because you say the next president should decide, but what you really mean is don’t confirm this nominee because you’d rather have another Scalia on the bench.


GOP's Record-Breaking SCOTUS Obstruction

A lot can be accomplished in 125 days.  It took less time than that for the Allies to liberate Paris after D-Day.  And Franklin Roosevelt’s first 100 days are still remembered for the incredible amount that was accomplished in such a short time.

So surely the United States Senate could manage to hold a hearing within 125 days for an unquestionably qualified, uncontroversial Supreme Court nominee with strong support from across the ideological spectrum.  But the Republicans who control the Senate have continued to simply pretend that President Obama hasn’t nominated anyone to fill the vacancy.  And at Day 125 of the nomination, the GOP has set a shameful record:  D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland is now the longest pending Supreme Court nominee in American history, and he still has not been allowed to have a committee hearing.

Of course, Senate Republicans can act quickly when they want to.  For instance, it was only a few hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that, contrary to all precedent, the Senate would refuse to consider anyone nominated by President Obama to fill the vacancy, no matter who it might be.  This was at a time when there was still nearly a full year left in Obama’s presidency, so McConnell’s lightning-fast decision for obstruction and politicization guaranteed that the Court vacancy would remain open not only for the rest of that Supreme Court term, but also for most or even all of the following term as well.

Unfortunately, neither McConnell nor his fellow GOP senators seem to care about the damage an extended vacancy can do to a Court characterized by important and headline-grabbing 5-4 decisions.  These are analyzed in Material Harm to Our System of Justice: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court, a report by our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation and the Constitutional Accountability Center.  Senate Republicans are unmoved that their unprecedented obstruction is politicizing what is supposed to be an apolitical institution.  They are not bothered that their unprecedented obstruction is harming their constituents and people and businesses across America.

But if they don’t care about harming the Constitution, the American judicial system, and their own constituents, maybe these GOP senators will care if it hurts them.  They should be concerned about the finding in a new polling memo out today from the Constitutional Responsibility Project and Hart Research.  The memo shows that:

  • As the GOP’s obstruction has dragged on, even more voters want a hearing than on the day he was nominated.  National surveys have all registered at least 60 percent in favor, with political independents and voters in battleground states with vulnerable Republican senators demonstrating comparable levels of support.
  • Nearly two-thirds of voters consider it to be “wrong” that Senate Republicans are refusing to hold hearings.
  • In battleground states, support for Garland’s nomination grows as voters learn more about his background and extensive qualifications.
  • At least seven out of ten voters think Republicans are playing politics with the Supreme Court, and a supermajority is convinced that the Senate is failing to fulfill its constitutional duty. No GOP framing to justify their obstruction is considered nearly as compelling.
  • In key battleground states, 40 percent or more of voters say that they are less likely to support incumbent senators because they are obstructing Chief Judge Garland’s nomination.  At the same time, most voters don’t seem to know what their own senator’s position is.  So when they find out, vulnerable GOP senators could find themselves even more vulnerable.

So on this record-breaking 125th day of the GOP’s refusal to do its job, let us hope that Senate Republicans will move to hold a hearing and vote on Judge Garland as soon as they return in September, even if it’s only to save their own skin.


Garland Gets the ABA's Highest Possible Evaluation

The ABA has released its evaluation of Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s qualifications for the Supreme Court, and – surprise! – he earned their highest possible rating:  Every member of the evaluation committee that combed through his record and talked to practitioners around the country agreed: Judge Garland is well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

This isn’t a surprise.  We’ve known all along how incredibly well qualified he is.  But the ABA has put online a very detailed explanation of how they reached their conclusion.  For anyone who doubts that this is an excellent nomination, this ABA report is must-reading.

Integrity is essential in any judge, especially on the Supreme Court.  Not surprisingly, the committee heard amazing things about Judge Garland’s integrity.  Some sample quotes from the people the committee reached out to:

  • “Garland’s integrity is off the scales.”
  • “I do not know a finer person than Judge Garland. He is very solid, has the utmost integrity, and is a totally scrupulous, kind and generous person. It is hard to find a nicer person.”

As for his professional competence, the ABA panel was clearly extremely impressed.  Here is how they summarized what they heard from those who know best:

The unanimous consensus of everyone we interviewed was that Judge Garland is superbly competent to serve on the United States Supreme Court. This significant point warrants repeating:  all of the experienced, dedicated, and knowledgeable sitting judges, several former solicitor generals from both political parties, legal scholars from top law schools across the country, and lawyers who have worked with or against the nominee in private practice, government or within the judiciary describe the nominee as outstanding in all respects and cite specific evidence in support of that view.

When you read that paragraph, you can almost hear the ABA members saying “Wow!”

Regardless of judicial or political ideology, everyone wholeheartedly agrees that Judge Garland is supremely well qualified.

Unfortunately, there is one holdout group that is putting politics about all else: Senate Republicans, who still refuse to even hold a confirmation hearing for the nominee.

So while the ABA gives Judge Garland its highest possible rating, Senate Republicans are giving him the finger.  And it’s the American people who lose.


Criticism Mounts for Senate GOP Obstruction of Judges

Perhaps the most vital role the United States Constitution assigns to the Senate is the vetting of federal judicial nominees.  An efficient and independent judiciary is vital to those seeking to vindicate their legal rights.  It is also vital to maintaining the separation of powers, which the Founders recognized as a cornerstone of our freedom.

Yet Republicans have done everything in their power to obstruct all of President Obama’s judicial nominees.  Since they’ve taken control of the Senate, Republicans have used their enhanced power to slow down the confirmation rate to historic lows. And by blockading a Supreme Court nominee regardless of his qualifications, they have drawn more attention recently to how they’ve been sabotaging the confirmation process for federal judges at all levels.

Today’s New York Times has a devastating editorial – The Senate’s Confirmation Shutdown – detailing the obstruction.  Beginning with the most prominent example – the refusal to allow President Obama to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, regardless of the nominee’s qualifications – the editorial sets out a powerful indictment of how the Senate GOP has used its control of the chamber to keep federal courts around the country understaffed:

 This has been enormously damaging to the district courts, which deal with hundreds of thousands of cases annually, and where backlogs drag out lawsuits and delay justice. It also harms the appeals courts, whose rulings are the final word in nearly all litigation, since the Supreme Court hears only about 75 cases a year.

 How bad has it gotten? Compare the current Senate’s abysmal record with the Democratic-led Senate that President George W. Bush faced in the last two years of his administration. By June 2008, the Senate had approved 46 of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees; they confirmed a total of 68 by September. In contrast, Mr. McConnell’s Senate has confirmed only 20 of Mr. Obama’s judges since Republicans took control in January 2015, the slowest pace since the early 1950s. Appellate judges accounted for just two of those confirmations, fewer than at any time since the 19th century.

Those twenty confirmations during the past year-and-a-half include two for the Court of International Trade.  The other 18 are for district and circuit courts, fewer than the number of post offices they’ve renamed so far this Congress.

The result is a substantial increase in the number of vacancies since the GOP took over the Senate, with the number of judicial emergencies (vacancies with overwhelming backlogs that impede access to justice) skyrocketing to 2½ times what it was at the beginning of this Congress.  The Times continues:

It would be easy to fill most of these vacancies if the Senate did its job. Currently, 37 of Mr. Obama’s nominees remain bottled up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, 30 of whom are still waiting for their hearing; 17 more have been approved by the committee but have not been scheduled for a full Senate vote. To make matters worse, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has said he will shut down the confirmation process, such as it is, before the presidential nominating conventions in July.

Not mincing words, the Times editorial calls this behavior “disgraceful and disgusting,” warning that Senate Republicans “should not be surprised if, come November, the voters choose representatives who actually do their job.”

Indeed, the message Senate Republicans are hearing from Americans is to #DoYourJob.

They could start by holding a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.  They could also stop delaying committee votes on nominees like Don Schott for the Seventh Circuit (whose vote today was delayed simply because committee Republicans could delay it).  They could hold hearings for qualified circuit court nominees like California’s Lucy Koh for the Ninth Circuit and North Dakota’s Jennifer Kelmetsrud Puhl for the Eighth Circuit, both of whom have the support of their home state senators.  Republicans could also stop blocking hearings for Indiana’s Myra Selby for the Seventh Circuit, Alabama’s Abdul Kallon for the Eleventh Circuit, Kentucky’s Lisabeth Tabor Hughes for the Sixth Circuit, and Pennsylvania’s Rebecca Haywood for the Third Circuit, all of whom are currently facing obstruction by Republican home state senators who simply want to prevent President Obama from filling these vacancies.

Whether it’s the Supreme Court, the circuit courts, or the district courts, Senate Republicans are keeping as many vacancies open for as long as possible, so that they can be filled by a President Donald Trump, whose racist comments about judicial qualifications and whose attacks on judicial independence should, in a sane party, disqualify him from being given the power to nominate judges at all.


New Campaign Slogan for Pat Toomey?

Last month, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put on a great dog-and-pony show to make it look like Toomey was working to get his home-state nominees confirmed.  This afternoon, Toomey had a chance to really support those nominees, and he was – surprise! – missing in action.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked for unanimous consent for the Senate to vote to confirm all 15 federal district court nominees pending on the Senate floor.  Most have been waiting for more than four months since committee approval for a floor vote, including two from Pennsylvania who were jointly recommended by Sens. Toomey and Bob Casey.  In fact, six of the nominees have been waiting for a vote since last year!

McConnell objected.  Toomey was nowhere to be found to stand up for his nominees, who would fill vacancies that have been open since August and September of 2013.

Then Sen. Warren sought unanimous consent to vote on a smaller list, one that still included the Pennsylvania nominees.  And once again, McConnell objected, and Toomey was nowhere to be found.

(Warren then tried with only four non-Pennsylvania nominees, then only one, but her efforts were nevertheless shot down, this time by Republican Orrin Hatch.)

This would have been a great opportunity for Toomey to stand up to his party boss and demand a vote for his nominees, who were fully vetted and approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee way back in January.  As a member of the majority party, Toomey’s requests would presumably carry more weight with McConnell than Casey’s.  But we’ll never know, because Toomey would not publicly stand up against McConnell.

This is sadly reminiscent of Toomey’s non-supportive “support” for Pennsylvanian Phil Restrepo for the Third Circuit, when Toomey cooperated with GOP leadership in their efforts to slow down the confirmation process as much as possible.

And of course, Toomey quickly obeyed when McConnell demanded that his fellow Republicans refuse to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  This unprecedented act of obstruction has significant harmful consequences, as described in a recent report by our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation and the Constitutional Accountability Center.

So perhaps Toomey could adopt this as a campaign slogan:

Pat Toomey:  Putting Pennsylvania first  (Except when his Washington DC party boss tells him not to)


Report by Elizabeth Warren Slams GOP Obstruction of Nominees

Since Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley is making sure that the committee he runs completely ignores Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, one might think that he’s using the extra time to at least process the president’s many circuit and district nominees. Not!

While Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s brazen and unprecedented refusal to consider Garland has drawn a great deal of attention,  PFAW has long reported on how this obstruction, far from being unique to Garland, is an extension of how the Senate GOP has treated President Obama’s lower court nominees for most of his time in office.

Today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a tremendous contribution to the national conversation, issuing a new report entitled Going to Extremes: The Supreme Court and Senate Republicans’ Unprecedented Record of Obstruction of President Obama’s Nominees.  The senator covers how Republicans have worked hard not to thoughtfully vet both judicial and executive branch nominations, but to slow down their confirmations as much as possible, or block their confirmations altogether.

She uses Senate Republicans’ own statements about the Garland nomination to show the disingenuousness of the rationales for obstruction they present to the public and demonstrates that their obstruction is unprecedented.  And with a prosecutor’s efficiency, she makes the powerful case that the GOP has consistently and deliberately slow-walked or blocked altogether the president’s circuit and district court nominees, as well as his executive branch nominees.

Supported with facts and figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, Sen. Warren’s new report is a devastating indictment of a political party that has misused the confirmation process to prevent the executive and judicial branches from functioning effectively to protect consumers and workers, hold large corporations accountable, and protect equality.

As she notes in the report’s conclusion:

From the moment the Supreme Court vacancy arose, Senate Republicans linked arms in an attempt to deny President Obama the full authority of his office in the final year of his presidency. They cynically claimed they wish to “let the people decide,” but the people have already decided. Twice. They elected President Obama in 2008 by nine million votes and re-elected him in 2012 by five million votes. Republicans’ statements over many weeks have made clear that their true interest is what it has been for the past eight years: to block and hinder President Obama at every turn, dragging out or blocking outright the confirmation of nominees across the government and the courts.

As the report shows, the GOP has a shameful record of obstruction going back to President Obama’s first days in office.  The unprecedented blockade against Garland is only the apex of a pattern that has gone on for years.


A Circuit Court Nominee for Mitch McConnell to Consider

Two days after nominating Rebecca Haywood to the Third Circuit, and one day after nominating Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, President Obama today continued to work to make sure that our nation’s appellate vacancies are filled with qualified judges.  Specifically, he has nominated Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes to the Sixth Circuit, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.  Upon confirmation, she would become the first woman from Kentucky on the 6th Circuit.

This seat has been vacant since Judge Boyce Martin retired back in 2013.  The court’s caseload is so heavy that the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has officially designated the vacancy as a judicial emergency.

This nomination comes after long and extensive consultations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, the nominee’s two home state senators.  In fact, press reports from more than two years ago noted that Justice Hughes was being vetted by the White House.  No one can credibly claim that the president didn’t engage in adequate consultation.

For six years as Minority Leader and now as Majority Leader, McConnell has done everything he can do obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees.  Even as Minority Leader, he was able to needlessly block votes on highly qualified consensus nominees for months.  As Majority Leader, it is even easier to cause needless delay in floor votes, and McConnell’s Senate confirmed only 11 judges last year, the lowest number since 1960 (when there were hundreds fewer judgeships to fill).

McConnell has already led his party to say they will refuse to consider Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, a position so absurd and so widely unpopular that several cracks have already appeared in the party’s wall of obstruction.  We certainly hope that McConnell doesn’t show similar partisanship with Justice Hughes’s nomination.  There is a judicial emergency that needs to be filled, and a qualified nominee stands ready to fill it.


GOP's Newest Defense of SCOTUS Obstruction Falls Apart

GOP talking points have continued to fall apart upon even minimal reflection and scrutiny, only to be revised and discredited yet again.  That is not a surprise, since they were so hastily thrown together as a post-hoc justification for a political decision Mitch McConnell made with unseemly haste as soon as he heard that Justice Scalia had passed away.

Now Republicans are trying out some new iterations in a desperate attempt to find some rationale to justify their decision to not do their job and consider – or even meet with – the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court.

For instance, Sen. Orrin Hatch says:

although in recent years it’s become customary to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominations, for the first 130 years of our nation’s history the Senate never held a hearing on any Supreme Court nominee

They didn’t have hearings, but that doesn’t mean the Judiciary Committee and Senate simply ignored the nomination.  It just means the Judiciary Committee and full Senate did their job and fully considered the merits of the nominations without feeling there was a need for hearings at the beginning of the process.  That is a far cry from today, when not having committee hearings means the Senate not taking any actions whatsoever to consider the nomination.  The senator’s argument is so pitifully irrelevant as to show that the GOP is desperate to trick the American people into thinking there is some principle behind their decision.

Hatch also says:

And a justice has never died in office this late in a term-limited President’s last year, when voting on the President’s successor has already begun.

As GOP talking points are repeatedly refuted by fact, they keep modifying them.  Before, they were suggesting there was no precedent for SCOTUS confirmations in an election year.  As Justice Kennedy can attest, that simply is not true.  Now they add more detail – when the vacancy is due to death, this late in an election year, but only an election year where the president is term-limited.  Of course, presidents were not term limited until the 22nd Amendment was adopted in 1951 (when Sen. Hatch was 16), so as a historical example, it conveniently ignores the vast majority of American history.

It also implicitly refutes the GOP’s own previous suggestion that they were acting in conformity with tradition.  If their newest TP is that this is a situation that has never arisen before (given their narrowing of the conditions), then they are also admitting that their decision to do their job is without historical precedent.  And they are right, as Lindsey Graham has candidly acknowledged.

Hatch also picks out a completely irrelevant historical example to justify inaction on the part of Senate Republicans:

In one case, Congress even abolished a Supreme Court seat rather than confirm the President’s nominee.

He is referring to a nomination by Andrew Johnson, where one house of Congress had already passed the bill eliminating the seat before the nomination was even made.  Eliminating a seat is action, not inaction.  Republicans are not talking about exercising congressional authority to establish the number of seats on the Supreme Court.  To the contrary, they are talking about eliminating the president’s constitutional authority to make nominations to fill the seats that Congress has established.  They want to keep the seat in existence, but just have it occupied by a justice selected by someone other than the person Americans already elected to fill it.

While Senate Republicans continue to throw out new post-hoc justifications in the hopes that something will stick, President Obama is doing his job.  Today, he is nominating someone to the Supreme Court.  Now the Senate needs to do their job and give the nominee timely consideration.


Some People Are Still Doing Their Job on Judges

President Obama has nominated Rebecca Haywood of Pennsylvania to fill a vacancy on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that opened last July.  She would bring to the bench her many years of experience with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where she is now Chief of the Appellate Division.  If confirmed, she would be the first woman of color to ever serve on the Third Circuit.

“If confirmed.”  It’s up to the Senate to thoroughly vet the nominee and vote on whether to confirm her.  Yet Senate Republicans who are refusing to #DoYourJob with any Supreme Court nomination have also been bottling up President Obama’s lower court nominees, as well.  There are already five other circuit court nominees who have yet to be granted hearings before the Judiciary; some have been waiting for more than two months already.

The bottleneck must end.  The president continues to do his job by nominating qualified jurists to serve on our nation’s courts.  Haywood and all of the other judicial nominees should receive the timely and fair consideration contemplated by the Constitution.