In an interview today with a Philadelphia radio station, wealthy Republican Sen. John Sidney McCain III said, "I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up. I promise you. This is where we need the majority."
Later, according to Talking Points Memo, McCain's office appeared to back slightly away from the statement, saying, "Sen. McCain believes you can only judge people by their record and Hillary Clinton has a clear record of supporting liberal judicial nominees. That being said, Sen. McCain will, of course, thoroughly examine the record of any Supreme Court nominee put before the Senate and vote for or against that individual based on their qualifications as he has done throughout his career."
Trust the original blurt as the truth. Trust it, too, because of the unprecedented refusal of the Republican-controlled Senate to even give a hearing to President Obama's nominee, the distinguished federal Judge Merrick Garland, as moderate as they get and recipient of the highest rating from the American Bar Association. It's 215 days and counting
Before we examine the implications of McCain's statement and the behavior of the Republican Senate, it's worth reminding Arizonans exactly who John McCain is.
After his release from North Vietnam, McCain, still a handsome fighter pilot, spent time on Capitol Hill. There he decided he didn't want to follow the flags of his fathers and wait to be named an admiral. Instead he wanted to become a politician. He married the beautiful Cindy Hensley, wealthy heiress of a Phoenix beer distributorship with roots in organized crime, and planted his ambitions in Arizona, first as a congressman and, since 1987 as a Senator.
He knew nothing about the state, but that didn't matter. McCain wanted to be a national presence. It's said that every U.S. Senator looks in the mirror in the morning and sees the next president. This has long been true of McCain, right up to his run as GOP standard bearer in 2008 — a campaign derailed not merely by Barack Obama's appeal and George W. Bush's Party That Wrecked America, but his own bad judgment in selecting half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. In briefings with then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson during the Panic of 2008, when the world economy sat on the precipice, Obama was engaged and informed. McCain was at sea.
The media loved him. But McCain's "independence" and "moderation" were fickle. He backed away from immigration reform. Stunningly, this former resident of the Hanoi Hilton, endorsed torture after condemning it. McCain has been a reliable member of the lockstep support for ruinous Republican policies and disciplined GOP scorched-earth opposition to President Obama. Unlike most Republicans, he accepts mainstream science on climate change, but has done nothing to respond. He has a special antipathy to Amtrak and transit. His lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is 82 percent. The only maverick was in the wet dreams of the media. His temper is volcanic and his intellectual curiosity is no better than W's. Many are his enemies in the Senate, including most Republicans aside from his loyal pet Lindsey Graham. He is Joe Arpaio without the charm.
Critically, McCain has done nothing for Arizona. Nothing on environmental protection. Nothing to bring federal money for high-end research, federal facilities, or light rail (WBIYB). He became part of the dominant Republican delegation committed to being ideological soldiers at the national level, but failing to address the important needs of their districts or states. Where was the maverick?
Delegations bringing home federal money ("pork") are important elements in any state's success. This is certainly true of Texas, whose power derives from oil and decades of massive federal investments. Modern Arizona wouldn't exist without the federal government: the Army to pacify native tribes; land grants for railroads; some of the most ambitious reclamation projects in history; Cold War spending that created the tech economy in Phoenix and Tucson; flood control that allowed for more sprawl, and the Central Arizona Project. Especially after statehood, none of this would have been possible without U.S. Representatives and Senators that brought home not Arizona's "fair share," but much more. When it came to the good of the state, there was not an inch separating Republicans from Democrats.
Until the late 1980s, when ideologues and carpetbaggers such as McCain took office.
I offer this background as a reminder than the only things that have ever driven McCain in politics are opportunism and ambition. Denied the presidency, he is determined to destroy the republic. Even Jeff Flake has had the integrity to consistently denounce Donald Trump, most recently refusing to accept the Trump line that the election is "rigged." From "moderate" "independent" McCain, we have warnings of what's to come. This puts him in the Kook camp that would make Hillary's election automatically illegitimate. Four years of scorched earth and worse.
The framers gave the Senate a role to "advice and consent" on treaties and such appointments as Supreme Court justices. This has always implied a legislative voice, as in a vote. Win most, lose a few (as an uncompromising Woodrow Wilson learned with the League of Nations). Historically, the Senate, whomever was in control, followed an unspoken rule that a president — along with the vice president the only two offices elected by the nation as a whole — was entitled to his appointments. Democratic-controlled Senates approved the former vote-suppression soldier William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court, the traitorous John Mitchell as Attorney General, and crazy James Watt as Interior Secretary to name but a few.
But that was then. With the Garland case, Mitch McConnell's Senate has provoked a quiet constitutional crisis. It should be one of the biggest campaign issues. Because it is. And McCain promises worse to come. As I wrote in the previous column, retaking the Senate is as important as winning the White House. We can't keep going this way before the Cold Civil War turns into something much worse.