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Why Is Brian Sandoval Being Floated As A Scalia Replacement?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/02/2016 Jason Linkins
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In the immediate wake of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death, Republicans swore up and down that they'd refuse to consider anyone President Barack Obama nominated as a replacement. Then there were a couple days of softening stances, as it looked like Republican senators would at least go through the advise-and-consent motions en route to not confirming an Obama nominee. That all changed this week, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had unanimously decided they would not even countenance a hearing on the matter.

But what if Obama was to nominate the Republican governor of Nevada, for some reason? What then?

This is an idea that we suddenly have to consider, according to The Washington Post:

Brian Sandoval, the centrist Republican governor of Nevada, is being vetted by the White House for a possible nomination to the Supreme Court, according to two people familiar with the process.

Sandoval is increasingly viewed by some key Democrats as perhaps the only nominee President Obama could select who would be able to break a Republican blockade in the Senate.

OK, sure. As the Post's Mike DeBonis and Juliet Eilperin note, Sandoval is a well-liked governor with a few bipartisan feints on his record. He's pro-choice, he implemented the Affordable Care Act in his state and he doesn't seem to wish any specific harm to the LGBT community. You'd have to imagine that anyone Obama might nominate for the Supreme Court would be all these things at a minimum.

At the same time, per the Post, "Sandoval is not seen as labor-friendly -- potentially alienating a swath of the Democratic base." But I gather the attraction here is that a Sandoval nomination could "fracture the front of Republican opposition and force McConnell to take up the nomination in this contentious election year," perhaps resulting in some positive outcomes for Democrats in a few key Senate races this year.

An obvious flaw in this plan, of course, is that Obama would be potentially putting Brian Sandoval on the Supreme Court. But, you know, all anyone is doing here is vetting, and then turning loose "two people familiar with the process" to tell The Washington Post that this is happening.

So, what's going on? There are a few possibilities.

  1. Obama really thinks Sandoval is a great nominee and genuinely wants to see this happen.
  2. Obama doesn't think Sandoval is that great, but he does believe filling the Supreme Court as quickly as possible is more important than securing a liberal legacy, and he figures Sandoval would at least be acceptable.
  3. Obama is basically trolling the GOP, hoping they react in a way that makes them look idiotic.

And the answer is behind door number three. 

Citing another unnamed source, the Post also reports that "while Sandoval told [Senate Minority Leader Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] he had not made a final decision on whether he would accept a Supreme Court nomination, he would allow the vetting process to move forward." But this is not the case, according to Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston: 

(I'm guessing that in this case, the Post's unnamed source is probably an off-the-record Reid staffer.)

Hey, you know, it's all fun and games until the GOP calls Obama's bluff and suddenly they need to walk this back. But that's why you cloak yourself in the plausible deniability that only "two people familiar with the process" can provide.

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Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast "So, That Happened." Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

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