More than 3,500 days after the fact, President Obama claims he regrets filibustering the nomination of Justice Alito to the Supreme Court. To be more precise, White House press secretary Josh Ernest makes this claim on Obama’s behalf.
Obama himself has made no such public statement. Instead, as Scott notes, he has tried to talk his way out of the obvious contradiction between his filibuster of Altio and his insistence that his nominee to replace Justice Scalia proceed to a vote on the Senate floor.
The two positions cannot be reconciled. Obama’s claim that Alito was confirmed “regardless of what votes particular senators [i.e., Obama himself]” is an evasion. It won’t do for Obama to hide behind Democratic colleagues who either thought Alito deserved to be confirmed or thought their political interests would be injured by blocking the nomination. Obama owns his vote.
Obama’s claim that “there’s been a basic consensus, a basic understanding, that the Supreme Court is different” also cannot withstand scrutiny to the extent that it is used to insist on confirmation of lame duck president’s nominee by a Senate controlled by the other party. No precedent from the past 80 supports this alleged “basic understanding.”
Having failed to talk his way around the problem, Obama is reduced to having his flack say the president regrets his attempt to block Alito. But does Obama really regret this? I suppose so in the sense that it now causes him embarrassment when he insists that there be a floor vote on his upcoming nominee.
But suppose Obama hadn’t participated in the filibuster of Alito. Would he have been able to run so persuasively as the leftist alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2008? Or would Clinton, John Edwards, and some further to the left have successfully attacked him for failing to do what he could to block a strong conservative jurist?
That’s a risk that Obama, if he thought about the matter at all, as opposed to reflexively obstructing President Bush, was unwilling to take. Obama did what he thought he had to do to advance leftism and, above all, his political interests.
Republicans will now do that which advances anti-leftism and their political interests. I trust they will make sure that Obama continues to “regret” filibustering Alito.