Biden’s office has insisted that his remarks are being taken out of context. Even so, an interview from that same period in The Washington Post has also surfaced, in which Biden offers the same take, along with his elaboration on how, in the “supercharged” environment of a presidential race, “there would be no bounds of propriety that would exist on either side” and that any nominee, no matter how qualified, “would become a victim.”
Whatever the context in which Biden voiced these sentiments, Republicans are now having fun twisting the knife. Current Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is going around quoting what he calls “the Biden rules” in response to suggestions that his committee is abdicating its duty.
And ultimately, it’s not clear how upset voters will be about the Senate’s refusal to act. Polls suggest that people do have a preference, though one not as strong as you might expect. Of five national polls taken on whether Obama or his successor should appoint Scalia’s replacement, three found that a majority favor Obama (Fox News with 62 percent, Pew at 56 percent, and Reuters/IPSO with 54 percent), while two have the electorate pretty evenly split (CBS News with 47 percent saying Obama should nominate versus 46 percent favoring his successor, and NBC/Wall Street Journal with 43 percent for Obama and 42 percent for his successor). And as with so much polling, there’s little way to gauge the intensity of people’s commitment to these positions—much less what that intensity will be nine months from now.
Which speaks to another upside to McConnell’s strategy. By shutting down the confirmation battle before it begins, he can take most of the incoming fire himself, and he can take it sooner rather than later. If the confirmation process were allowed to grind on, senators could be squabbling over a nominee for months, with some of the more rabble-rousing presidential contenders adding to the chaos and trashing any lawmaker they deemed insufficiently tough on Obama’s choice.
“McConnell did everybody a huge favor by taking the position he did,” says longtime GOP strategist John Feehery, the president of QGA Public Affairs. “It shut off any nonsense from Ted Cruz,” Feehery explains, “and it lowered expectations that this would be the fight for the year. It also makes it more difficult for conservatives to sit out this election, giving the party more leeway in selecting a winning ticket in July.”
As for the broader charge of obstructionism: Voters may love to hate gridlock, says Sabato, but “that’s not how they vote in individual Senate races.”
More precisely, voters don’t hate gridlock enough to stop voting for it. Which is the point former Representative Barney Frank caustically made in a November Politico piece titled “How Voters Cause Washington’s Gridlock.” In it, Frank charges, “The electorate as a whole has established the basis for gridlock by its biennial display of schizophrenia,” by which he means the recent electoral trend of voting in Democrats in presidential election years and Republicans in the midterms. You can’t blame this merely on the hard-core partisans who dominate the primaries, says Frank, but also on the lukewarm voters who don’t bother turning out for elections that don’t excite them. Thus the constant power shifts and chronic gridlock.