The Skinny

No Justice, No Peace

McCain stands firm on opposition to Supreme Court hearings—although he'd have pushed for them if he were president

Sen. John McCain has stood strong in opposing hearings for President Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge who has enjoyed bipartisan support in the past.

Republican leaders said that, as a matter of principle, they would not allow Obama to make a pick because it was the last year of his presidency and therefore, filling the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia should be the job of the next president, not Obama.

McCain has cited a 1992 speech by then-Sen. Joe Biden, who said that Democratic senators should block a hypothetical nomination by then-President George Herbert Walker Bush unless the judge was moderate enough to suit Democrats. (No vacancy arose in Bush I's final year, so it was a moot point.)

But while he believes in that principle from his current post in the Senate, McCain told the Weekly over the weekend that he would have pushed to appoint a justice if he were in the last year of his second term as president.

"I'm sure I would want it to be part of my legacy, but that's our system of government," McCain said. "There are three co-equal branches. It's not where you stand, it's where you sit. In the Senate, my priorities and my responsibilities as a legislator are very different than my priorities and authority as the executive."

While different public opinion polls have shown different results, in general surveys done for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Fox News have shown that by a roughly 2-1 margin, respondents believe that senators should at least hold hearings on Obama's nominee. A June Public Policy Polling survey of Arizona voters showed that 61 percent of voters believed the Senate should hold hearings, while only 23 percent agreed with McCain's position that the hearings should be put off until a new president takes office.

McCain doesn't put much stock in PPP surveys.

"Everybody knows that's a Democratic-run campaign," McCain said.

McCain, who has voted against confirming Obama nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said that he would also oppose Garland if the GOP were to budge and allow hearings.

"From what I've seen of his record, it's too far left," McCain said. "They're portraying him as a moderate, but there are a couple, three decisions of his that I would not agree with."

Other Republicans have been supportive of Garland, at least in theory. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, for example, has said that Republicans should move forward to approve him if Hillary Clinton wins the White House because Garland is probably a better pick than anyone Clinton will put forward. And Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah specifically named Garland as the type of justice that he'd like to see Obama nominate.

"The president told me several times he's going to name a moderate, but I don't believe him," Hatch told Newsmax before Obama announced his choice of Garland. "[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man. He probably won't do that because this appointment is about the election."

Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democrat who is challenging McCain in November, told the Weekly earlier this summer that McCain's refusal to support hearings is wrongheaded.

"I think the Senate should do its job," Kirkpatrick said. "They should have hearings. They should be working on this right now rather than put it off for another year. It's another indication of how John McCain has changed. In the past he's insisted on moving ahead with confirmation hearings and now he's saying he wants Trump to pick the next Supreme Court justice. People don't like that."

Gun Play

McCain declines to condemn AZ GOP flyer with bullet holes surrounding Kirkpatrick, but says his campaign wouldn't have done it

In his conversation with the Weekly, McCain also addressed the question of the controversial "Wanted" poster of Democratic opponent Ann Kirkpatrick that was distributed earlier this month by the Arizona Republican Party.

The poster was pockmarked by images of bullet holes, leading Kirkpatrick and her allies to complain that it was in poor taste and advocated violence against Kirkpatrick.

Among those condemning it: Gabby Giffords, who was shot through the head on Jan. 8, 2011, when a crazed gunman opened fire at her Congress on Your Corner event and killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords.

Giffords and her husband, retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, released a statement through Americans for Responsible Solutions, their political committee that pushes for laws to reduce gun violence.

"In a state and country that know the toll of gun violence too well, there is no room for invoking the use of firearms in our politics," they wrote. "Our political leaders have the responsibility to avoid a descent into messages that might suggest that elections are settled anywhere else than at the ballot box. We urge Arizonans of every political stripe to join us in asking the Arizona Republican Party to refrain from using this irresponsible imagery and to apologize."

McCain stopped short of condemning the flyer when asked about it, although he said his campaign wouldn't have put it out.

"I've never it, but I've seen a picture of it and it looked like there were small holes up at the top of it," McCain said. "I never saw it, so it's a little hard for me to comment on it. But politics is a very rough business, as you know. I just went through a primary where I was accused of every possibly violation of every law in the book, including my eminent demise by my opponent. ... Would I have put out a poster like that? I'm sure not. I don't see the point to it."

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