On Feb. 13, the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the Supreme Court shorthanded and threw the Senate into an unprecedented partisan standoff over confirming his replacement.
Now 100 days later, little has changed: The Supreme Court sits with eight justices, and Senate Republican leaders remain determined to block President Obama’s nominee, Merrick B. Garland, from joining the court.
The White House-backed advocacy group pushing for Garland’s confirmation is marking the 100-day milestone by rolling out a new digital ad campaign aimed at Republican and independent voters in states where key GOP senators are standing for re-election.
The Constitutional Responsibility Project is placing ads on Facebook and on select, well-trafficked websites highlighting calls from Republican voters and officials who have called on the Senate to move forward with Garland’s nomination.
A memo on the “Republican Voices Campaign” prepared by project official Amy Brundage says the campaign is timed — like previous public-relations pushes on Garland’s behalf — to coincide with a congressional recess where senators will be in their home states and is set to reach 10 million non-Democratic voters.
“The American people refuse to let Senate Republicans off the hook, and the stakes couldn’t be higher,” Brundage writes.
The campaign, she said, will “we take over the homepages of leading newspapers” in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin — all home to vulnerable GOP incumbents.
“I plan on voting for Donald Trump and I think the Senate should do its dang job. They should give Garland a fair shot,” says a quote in one of the ads, attributed to a Republican voter identified as “Brian C.” of Yeagertown, Pa.
Brundage said the voters featured in the ads were identified after they signed a petition calling for action on Garland’s nomination at weneednine.org, the Constitutional Responsibility Project website. Another sample ad features former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who recently said the Senate “ought to do its duty” and vote Garland up or down.
Only two of 54 sitting Republican senators have come out in support of hearings for Garland. Previous pro-Garland campaigns — which included not only web ads, but on-the-ground protests and other direct actions — have failed to convince any additional GOP senators to change their posture, nor have the private meetings Garland has had with 15 of those Republican senators.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said Tuesday that the GOP blockade is in no danger of weakening. “It’s going to continue up to November the 8th,” he said, referring to Election Day. “You can’t predict the future of what’s going to happen, but I don’t think anything is going to change.”
“I think it’s least 52 Republicans, which is a majority of the Senate, deciding that we have to deliver on the mandate of the 2014 election,” Grassley said.
Grassley and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have the backing of their own allied outside groups, including issue-oriented organizations like the National Rifle Association, but also the well-funded Judicial Crisis Network, which has worked to activate conservatives who are deeply invested in the court’s direction to support the Republican opposition to Garland.
That group has spent at least $4.5 million on TV ads supporting the blockade. The Constitutional Responsibility Project has reported spending a fraction of that, and Brundage declined to provide a dollar figure for its new effort.
While Republicans believe that they would lose more GOP voters by confirming Garland than they lose swing voters by blocking him, Democrats say they are confident that public opinion is on their side — citing multiple polls taken both nationally and in key states showing 2-to-1 support for action on Garland’s nomination.
“I would say that when the Republicans in cycle go home, if they hear what we’re hearing from our pollsters, they’re going to be thinking twice about sticking with McConnell on this dead-end strategy,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the minority whip, said Tuesday.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Mike DeBonis