Can you believe John Boozman?
He's a U.S. senator, for goodness sake. As an esteemed member of the Republican Party that makes up the majority of that august body, shouldn't we expect more out of him?
What’s the point?
U.S. Sen. John Boozman chose to behave respectfully toward the president’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Is that allowed in Washington anymore? It should be expected.
And by more, we mean less.
Here's what the senior senator from Arkansas did, in the national spotlight, last week: He demonstrated respect for someone he disagrees with. He had a conversation with someone whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court he opposes. He showed President Obama's nominee courtesy. Gosh, he probably even shook his hand.
Oh, Arkansas, the shame.
The president so desperately wants to get his nominee, federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, on the U.S. Supreme Court. Who can blame him? As the New York Times offered, confirmation of Garland "could tip the ideological balance to create the most liberal Supreme Court in 50 years."
With just a few months left on his term, successfully filling a seat on the nation's highest court is the most substantial way Barack Obama could extend his political agenda, no matter who becomes the next president. He's already placed Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kagen on the court in the place of two retiring justices who had been appointed by Republican presidents. Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden death in February created an unexpected opportunity for the president to replace a staunchly conservative justice with one more suitable to a Democratic president.
The New York Times, using measures of ideology by four political scientists to place the justices and Garland on a ideological spectrum, put Garland only to the right of Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Is it any wonder this nomination is viewed as crucial when it would replace the Supreme Court's 30-year bulwark against liberalism with a nominee estimated to become the third most liberal justice on the court?
Most Republicans in the Senate, which is charged under the Constitution with the responsibility to "advise and consent" to the president's selection, have refused to meet with Garland, as though some of the president's liberal cooties might rub off on them. Within hours of Scalia's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced his party's intention to withhold its advise and consent process in the midst of an election year. The American people, McConnell said, should have an influence on the judicial selection, so the next president should fill Scalia's vacancy.
McConnell's stance obviously earned him criticism from Democrats, but his decision certainly falls within the bounds of the Constitution. Despite all the talk of precedent and propriety, the U.S. Senate is not obliged to do it the way it's always been done.
So now, Merrick Garland is darting this way and that through the halls of Senate office buildings, meeting with those who will have him, most of them Democrats. His presence is supposed to build pressure on Republicans to give the man his opportunity, to let him have his hearing.
In this setting, Boozman chose to receive Garland, all the while making it clear that he stands with McConnell.
So why meet?
"It's really being respectful of him, being respectful of the office he holds as a judge and also being respectful of the White House," Boozman said.
Perhaps that's why some people in Washington cannot comprehend Boozman's actions. This was no error of judgment. Rather, it was a gentlemanly act befitting a U.S. senator. But in the U.S. capital, politics has to be personal. Why meet with someone who disagrees with your stance, right? Where's that going to get the nation? No other Republican opposed to considering Garland's nomination had agreed to meet with him. Arkansas' other senator, Tom Cotton, said he had no plans to meet with Judge Garland. That, too, is no surprise.
It can certainly be argued that Boozman's sit-down with the nominee was at least partially influenced by the fact he has a Democratic challenger as he seeks re-election to the Senate. Perhaps it's politically beneficial for Boozman to hold firm to his rejection of hearings but at least appear as though he's willing to listen. Such considerations are a fact of life in national politics. But Boozman is no showboat. He's not flashy. It sounds like he treated Merrick Garland the same way he's treated all those Arkansans back home -- with respect.
That's a foreign language in 2016 national politics.
Arkansas can be proud that its senior senator has the backbone to stand for what he's convinced is right, but is also capable of listening to people who want something different.
Naturally, Boozman's meeting inspired his Democratic challenger, Conner Eldridge, to blast the "same old obstructionism" he said both parties have participated in in the past. And if the current president were Republican, the Democrats of this era would engage in the same kind of Senate strategy as McConnell.
Ironically, he was also blasted from conservative corners for his 20-minute meeting with Garland. A conservative advocacy group's spokesman referred to Boozman's "error of judgment."
That's the Washington, D.C., perspective. It wouldn't -- and certainly shouldn't -- fly in Arkansas. If we're at a point in this country where a conversation with someone with whom you have political differences is an error, we've regressed into a new age.
Commentary on 04/10/2016