On Wednesday afternoon, the Washington Post reported that Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who previously served on the federal bench, is being "vetted by the White House" as a possible replacement for Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. The Post's report only cites two anonymous sources, but notably, the White House declined to comment—meaning it declined to dispute the story, too.
If this story is true, what does it all mean, and what is President Obama trying to accomplish? Sandoval, who served on the Nevada district court from 2005 to 2009 following a unanimous Senate confirmation, is what passes for a "moderate" in the GOP these days, if only because he's not an anti-abortion extremist and permitted Medicaid expansion in his state under the Affordable Care Act. But Sandoval also has a record of hostility to organized labor, and there's no reason to believe he'd side with liberals on a wide range of issues that will soon come before the court, like voting rights, campaign finance, or affirmative action. He's not, in other words, an option many Democrats would find appealing.
However, if Obama's intent in floating Sandoval's name was to box Republicans in to looking even more unreasonable than they already have, then it seems his ploy is already working. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instantly said his boss won't consider Sandoval, explaining, "The Leader didn't say the Senate would act 'if' it was a certain type of nominee." Presumably, that means McConnell wouldn't take action even if Obama nominated the ghost of William Rehnquist.
Sen. John Cornyn, the second highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, likewise immediately told Politico that his position on not allowing a nomination to proceed was unchanged. And anti-tax radical Grover Norquist opined, "Obama might nominate the guy who taxed Burning Man. Ugh." Not Burning Man! (Norquist did notoriously attend the counter-cultural desert festival a couple of years ago.) Freshman Sen. Deb Fischer may have summed it up best, though, when she declared, "It's not about the person."
Well, it is about the person, except in this case, the person is Barack Obama, whom the Senate GOP evidently intends to obstruct clear through January. We'll see if any vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election express any warmth toward Sandoval as a way of wriggling out of their embrace of maximal dysfunction, but no matter what they say, a Sandoval nomination appears to be deader-than-dead on arrival—and the GOP looks all the worse for it.