Partisan politics plays role in McCaskills vote

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Monday, new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the high court after a lengthy political battle that included a planned filibuster and the extraordinary use of the "nuclear option" to finally fill the seat of the late Justice Anthony Scalia.

It's somewhat sad this extremely important event got buried in the news of Susan Rice's questionable use of surveillance and the missile strikes on Syria.

Yet this important appointment and confirmation will test the political memory of Missourians next year if and when Sen. Claire McCaskill decides to seek re-election.

In the days and weeks leading up to Gorsuch's appointment, McCaskill remained undecided. Eyeing the 2018 election cycle, I believe many Missourians thought McCaskill would go against the Democratic pressure and vote to confirm the new justice.

But as time wound down, Missouri's Democratic Senator sided with her party and clearly against the wishes of most Missourians. A vote by McCaskill in favor of Gorsuch would not have tipped the outcome one way or another. But it made a substantial difference, I believe, for Missouri voters.

If McCaskill does decide to seek re-election - and there's no reason at this point to say she won't - her vote against Gorsuch will be a recurring theme.

I have written on countless occasions my admiration and personal fondness for McCaskill. She is bright and witty and articulate and respected.

Yet when she had to decide between obstruction and the will of the people, she opted for the partisan approach and she may well pay a price for that decision.

There are ample hopefuls waiting in the wings in both parties should the Senator decide to retire. If she seeks re-election, there are still those who will challenge her in both the primary and general election.

But in the world of politics, her vote against Gorsuch may have lost all traction come a year and a half from now. In our chaotic world, it is highly likely that other events and other decisions may have greater importance than this one vote.

I have watched over the past few months as McCaskill and GOP Senator Roy Blunt have cooperated and worked together. That is what we both want and expect from our political leaders.

I don't pretend to know what was in her heart but I strongly suspect McCaskill knows that Neil Gorsuch will be a fair jurist and not a radical right-wing firebrand. But political pressure is enormous since November and in her case, I think politics carried the day.

I have always said that McCaskill was far too cozy with the former administration and her early support of Hillary Clinton was a smart political move. She used the same political skills as an early backer of Barack Obama.

In this case however, I think Sen. McCaskill made a mistake.

The real question is what price will she pay - if any - for her partisan position. We'll know come next year.

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