On Thursday, March 24, Joe Biden delivered a typically Biden-esque — meaning over-the-top — address at the Georgetown Law School. He claimed that a Senate refusal to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland until after the current presidential campaign would lead to “a genuine constitutional crisis.” He warned of:
… a patchwork Constitution inconsistent with equal justice and the rule of law … Even worse, a patchwork Constitution could deepen the gulf between the haves and have-nots. Under a system of laws, “national” in name only, the rich, the powerful can use it to their advantage, the geographical differences, and game the system not available to ordinary people.
Biden has also repeatedly claimed that his current critics “have been quoting selectively” from his June 1992 speech, in which he recommended exactly what he now claims would cause a constitutional crisis. A “genuine” one, at that — not merely the kind a political operative during a campaign season might claim.
Last week, I reported that Biden didn’t only fight in favor of the propriety of blocking votes on judicial nominees in 1992, when George H.W. Bush was president. On April 25, 2005, during the second term of George W. Bush, Biden delivered a passionate, extended speech on the sanctity of the Senate filibuster as a tool for blocking votes on judicial nominees. Note that in this speech, Biden was fighting for the ability of a minority of senators to prevent a vote on a judicial nominee. Whereas last week at Georgetown he took the polar opposite position, claiming that even a majority of senators blocking a vote causes a “constitutional crisis.”
Well, now we have a THIRD Biden speech contradicting last week’s Georgetown address.
On May 23, 2005, Senator Biden again took the floor of the Senate, indignant about the possibility of the “nuclear option” — a changing of the Senate rules to make it impossible for a minority of senators to block judicial appointments.
Biden’s old speeches are readily available online. Readers can determine for themselves whether they are consistent with his recent claim, repeated at Georgetown, that considering Judge Garland is “the Senate’s solemn constitutional duty”; that refusing to give him “a fair hearing and a vote on the floor of the Senate” is “not an option the Constitution leaves open.”
What is surprising (or maybe not, depending on how one views the major media) is that despite the controversy over what Biden said in one speech in 1992, he has not been called on to explain how his current insistence that the Constitution demands “a vote on the floor of the Senate” is consistent with what he — along with Senator Robert Byrd, Senator Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman John Podesta, and other Democrats — said repeatedly and emphatically in 2005 to defend the right of a minority of senators to block votes on Supreme Court nominees.
In both 2005 speeches, Biden leaned heavily on the authority of Senator Byrd. In defending the Democrats’ preventing votes on several of President Bush’s nominees to the circuit courts, and referring to the prospect of the Republicans invoking the “nuclear option,” Biden began his extended remarks by observing:
I have not been here as long as Senator Byrd, and no one fully understands the Senate as well as Senator Byrd, but I have been here for over three decades. This is the single most significant vote any one of us will cast in my 32 years in the Senate. I suspect the Senator would agree with that.
Byrd did agree, spearheading the historic “Gang of 14” compromise that preserved the filibuster (but only for a while, as it turned out) and ended the “nuclear option” threat from the Republicans.
“We should make no mistake,” Biden thundered:
This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power … The nuclear option abandons America’s sense of fair play. It is the one thing this country stands for: Not tilting the playing field on the side of those who control and own the field.
Yes, in 2005 Biden asserted that depriving a minority of senators of the ability to prevent a vote on judicial nominations undermines “the one thing this country stands for.”
Now, however, when a majority of senators refuse to consent to a Supreme Court nomination until after the heat of a presidential campaign has dissipated, Biden claims at Georgetown that the Republicans are “undermining the norms that govern how we conduct ourselves. They’re threatening what we value most, undercutting in the world what we stand for.”
Then … he prayed over it. Biden concluded his May 2005 speech with a prayer that must, or at least should, now cause him considerable embarrassment:
I say to my friends on the Republican side: You may own the field right now, but you won’t own it forever. I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.
Yeah — that prayer went unanswered.
In 2013, with the Democrats back in control of the Senate, Harry Reid and the Democrats – yup, now with Vice President Biden presiding over the chamber — imposed the “nuclear option” he had prayed against.
Here’s the final irony: the Democrats’ “nuclear option,” which the Republican Senate has not repealed and is still in effect, eliminated filibusters to block votes on judicial nominees — “except those to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Even the Democrats preserved the filibuster as a legitimate means of blocking votes on Supreme Court nominees.
Perhaps it is not wise for the Republicans to refuse to consider Judge Garland’s nomination. Perhaps it is even inappropriate, further politicizing the Court and undermining the Senate’s tattered comity even more. Perhaps it is not even in the Republicans’ own interest, inasmuch as it is quite likely that a nominee from President Hillary Clinton would be much less to their liking, or even one from the loose cannon of a President Trump.
But unwise, inappropriate, or impolitic or not, the Democratic argument, just restated at Georgetown by Vice President Biden, that the Senate has an obligation imposed by the Constitution to provide a presidential nominee to the Supreme Court with a hearing “and a vote on the floor” is preposterous. And when measured against Biden’s and the Democrats’ ardent defenses of filibusters over the years — and then their own abandonment of that position with their own “nuclear option” that actually preserved the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees — Biden’s pronouncements at Georgetown, and the media’s failure to hold him, Obama, Reid, Podesta, and the rest of the Democrats to task over it, seems like every scripted parody of establishment D.C. come to life.
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