For a guy who comes out of Wall Street by way of the Tea Party, there have been a few times over the last five years when Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey has been surprisingly reasonable. No time was that more apparent than in the days immediately following the 2012 slaughter of some 20 kindergartners and 1st-graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct.
Toomey reached out across the aisle to work with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on a compromise bill on common-sense measures to strengthen background checks on purchasers of firearms. When even that modest bill failed in the face of opposition from the NRA, it would have been easy for Toomey to give up and focus on his re-election campaign. But he has continued to voice support for the background-check measure as recently as last year.
Good for Pat Toomey. He also displayed the initial wisdom -- while Donald Trump was setting the GOP on fire late last year -- to stay away from the short-fingered vulgarian. When the Pennsylvania Republican Party elevated Trump's gutter talk by inviting him to speak at a Pennsylvania Society fundraiser in New York last December, Toomey stayed far, far away.
That was a good call. The Trump event for the GOP was marred by outbreaks of violence; security guards were captured on video throwing a female protester to the ground, while another claimed he was flung down the stairs, and two AP reporters were removed from the Manhattan hotel by force. The chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Marcel Groen, whose parents survived the Holocaust, said the Trump event that Toomey shunned was "not dissimilar from what would have happened in a Nazi rally in 1938."
But that was then. With Toomey's re-election bid at hand, and with three intriguing Democrats vying to run against him in November, the first-term senator from the Allentown area is running scared -- not sure whether he needs to shore up his extreme-right flank or try to appease moderates.
Regarding Trump, his personal calls for violence -- capped by today's extortionist-style suggestion that there'll be riots if he's not nominated at the Republican Party convention in Cleveland -- have only brought mild reprimands from Toomey. The Pennsylvanian saved his harsh language for the citizens who are protesting Trump's overt racism and xenophobia -- calling their actions "completely out of bounds" and part of "the culture of the Far Left."
But the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia -- and President Obama's moves to do what's constitutionally required and appoint a replacement -- has launched Toomey into a new orbit that is completely devoid of logic, decency or common sense.
This morning, Obama nominated Washington, D.C., federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia. Garland, it seems, is a raging...centrist. Indeed on some issues, like the rights of criminal defendants, the 63-year-old Merrick tilts toward the right side of the spectrum (even to the right, some have argued, of the conservative icon Scalia.) On other issues like the environment, Garland would probably nudge the rabidly pro-business Roberts Court to the left. But on the whole, naming the moderate Garland is one more compromise gambit directed by Obama toward angry GOP ideologues who've shown zero interest in compromises for the last seven years.
And Pat Toomey made it clear today that he wouldn't confirm Merrick Garland or even Judy Garland, as long as the pick is coming from President Obama.
In a remarkable "tweet storm" on Twitter just minutes after Garland's emotional nomination ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, Toomey wrote that "[w]ith the U.S. Supreme Court's balance at stake, and with the presidential election fewer than eight months away, it is wise to give the American people a more direct voice."
He added: "Should Merrick Garland be nominated again by the next president, I would be happy to carefully consider his nomination."
Plus, he -- and his allies on this like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- are flat out wrong on the history. There's plenty of modern instances of the Senate confirming Supreme Court picks in presidential election years, including sitting Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican confirmed by a Democratic-led Senate in 1988. This was a now-forgotten idea that came from the Founding Fathers -- putting the nation first and pushing political parties to the background.
The only modern tradition worth anything seems to be Republicans whose dislike of government is so strong that they refuse to even do their jobs. When we tolerate someone like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gallivanting around the country in servitude of the billionaire Trump, it emboldens the senators like Toomey who think they can get away with not filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
But I think Toomey has outsmarted himself on this one; most Pennsylvania voters will see through his shallow ploy. He may, unfortunately, be right about one thing: A vote on Garland or some other nominee may not come until next year. But I kind of doubt Toomey will be there to participate.