With Supreme Court Vacancy Comes a Need to Put Country Before Party

By Nick Laughlin
February 18, 2016 | Blog

In the twilight of his presidency, Barack Obama has been more frequently expressing regret for the divisive political climate that has colored Washington during his tenure.

During his recent State of the Union speech, the president said:

“The future we want – opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids – all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.”

No matter the past, it is critical that the President continue to use his remaining days in office to promote a more inclusive and productive political dialogue.

According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly a third of Americans see the inability of government to solve challenges as not just a major problem, but an actual crisis. Without concerted effort from national political leaders, this crisis will not be resolved.

President Obama now has an opportunity to lead such an effort.

When Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on Saturday, the immediate reaction from the political class was naked partisan posturing. Both sides began scheming how to use the vacant seat to ramp up the stakes of an already contentious election season, and ultimately advance their own agenda.

The ugliness of American politics has never been more evident.

Faced with this situation, President Obama has two options:

1. He can nominate a purely partisan candidate. This will fire up the liberal base, offer senators a chance to make impassioned speeches, and possibly help Democrats’ 2016 chances by highlighting what the party stands for. Perhaps a politically savvy choice, this would only stoke the flames of an already divisive debate, and surely lead to an empty seat on the court until 2017.

2. Or, he can nominate a candidate who is well-regarded by both parties. The president could even go so far as to get input from congressional leaders before making a decision. There’s no guarantee that Senate Republicans would accept such a nominee at this time, but it would serve as an olive branch and be the best shot at filling the vacancy in 2016.

This is a rare moment where voters are playing extra close attention to politics – providing a chance to speak to the millions of silent Americans who often tune out, frustrated by Washington’s antics. If the president were to make his decision based on what will help the country heal, not what will help his party win in 2016, that could serve as both substantive and symbolic push forward.

Great presidents rise above the fray and lead by example. We urge President Obama to take this moment to lead, and prove to America that 2016 can be a year of bridging divides, not widening them.

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