Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement is big news for the Supreme Court. It’s less clear how much of an effect it will have on the midterm elections — though the court’s expected rulings on abortion and other hot-button issues could certainly shape the debate going into the midterms.
But the timing spoke volumes about the current state of play between the parties.
If things go smoothly for the White House — President Biden appoints an undisputably qualified nominee, and confirmation proceeds in an orderly way — “I don’t expect it to move the needle much,” said the Democratic pollster Molly Murphy of Impact Research, a lead adviser to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
It would likely take an unforced error by Biden — appointing a “lightning rod” evoking reactions on the order of those that Brett Kavanaugh stirred — to make his court appointee a divisive issue in November, she said.
Still, Justice Breyer’s retirement, coming during a slump for Biden and his party, could serve to remind apathetic Democratic voters of the stakes of losing the Senate majority. After all, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he wouldn’t hold a confirmation vote in the last stretch of Biden’s term, if he became majority leader.
And if Biden keeps his campaign promise to name the first-ever Black woman to the Supreme Court, it would give Democrats a chance to celebrate — an unfamiliar experience over the past several months.
Republicans, however, see only good tidings in Justice Breyer’s exit now, when Democrats can count on being able to confirm his successor if it comes to a party-line vote. And they appear confident of having plenty to attack in whomever Biden names.
“I think it reflects that Dems know they’re going to lose the Senate,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Forcing vulnerable Democrats to walk the plank and vote for a radical nominee will be the final nail in their electoral coffin.”
Here’s what our colleagues have to say about Breyer’s retirement and the steps to replace him:
Tucker Carlson: ‘Of course I’m not an agent of Russia’
Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine is splitting Republicans along lines that first emerged when Donald Trump was president: G.O.P. elites want to get tough with Moscow, while their voters seem wary.
On Tuesday, Senator Mitch McConnell spoke for the elites when he praised President Biden’s recent handling of the crisis. Amid reports that NATO countries are supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons, the laconic Senate minority leader said, “It appears to me that the administration is moving in the right direction.”
Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, has been the tribune of the skeptical base. During one especially feisty exchange on Monday with Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Carlson asked, “Why is it disloyal to side with Russia, but loyal to side with Ukraine? It’s a sincere question.”
“Such confrontations have muddied the Republican response and undermined the effort of Republican leaders to paint Mr. Biden’s response as weak,” our colleague Jonathan Weisman writes in a succinct analysis of the emerging fault lines on the right.
In an interview Wednesday, Carlson forcefully defended his remarks, which some critics have cast as giving aid and comfort to Russian aggression toward Ukraine.
“Everything I’ve said about Russia and Ukraine strikes me as commonplace, as obvious,” Carlson said. “I don’t think my opinions are considered radical.”
As for the G.O.P. hawks who are urging Biden to supply Ukraine with Stinger missiles and Javelin anti-tank weapons, “I don’t think they’re all on the Raytheon payroll,” Carlson said. “They’re just on autopilot. These were zombie ideas that they never updated.”
Carlson shrugged off the accusation that he’s toeing the Kremlin’s line, whether through his comments on Ukraine or through his seeming fascination with Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who is close to Moscow. On Wednesday, the streaming service Fox Nation released “Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization,” which Carlson filmed in Budapest, the Hungarian capital.
“I don’t care, if that’s the question,” he said. “I’ve never been to Russia, I don’t speak Russian. Of course I’m not an agent of Russia.”
Carlson says his skepticism about U.S. involvement in Ukraine is motivated by two things: disgust with how American politicians in both parties have pushed for interventions abroad and regrets about his own role in promoting the Iraq war.
“We just withdrew in humiliating fashion from the longest war in American history,” he said, pointing to Afghanistan. “And no one pauses to ask, how did we end up here?”
Most of the time, he said, “I’m just amused by the idea of defending the territorial integrity of a country most Americans can’t identify on Google Maps.”
But Carlson grew animated as he reflected on the early George W. Bush era, when the 9/11 attacks, he said, created a media climate that was hostile to anyone questioning the wisdom of fighting wars in far-off countries that Americans struggled to understand.
He recalled his tenure as a co-host of “Crossfire,” the CNN debate show that often featured pundits from the left and right duking it out over the politics of the “war on terror” in the early 2000s.
“I have, in previous conflicts, participated in the hysteria,” he said. “I had no malicious intent, but I participated in a propaganda effort. I feel real shame about that. I’m never going to do that again. I really mean that.”
Carlson said he saw striking parallels between that time period and “a moment now where legitimate questions are shouted down.”
He compared his own ignorance back then about countries in the Middle East to today’s hawkish commentary on Ukraine, which he sees as “so obviously insane that it scares me no one else seems to notice it.”
“I mean, how can you even understand the country if you can’t even speak the language?” he said, adding an expletive for emphasis. He said he’d had no “idea what I was talking about.”
“I’m not rooting for Putin,” Carlson insisted. “I just care about what happens to our country.”
But the bipartisan rush to aid Ukraine — which he called “childish” — has only strengthened Carlson’s doubts about the acumen of leaders in both parties, whom he sees as “too stupid to have control over a country the size of ours.”
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