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Pat Toomey caught between a Trump and a McConnell place

| Saturday, March 26, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, speaks with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editors and reporters Friday, March 14, 2014.

Call it a double whammy for Sen. Pat Toomey. With the increasing likelihood that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president, Toomey, the Lehigh Valley Republican, must worry that Trump's coattails will drag him in the wrong direction.

With Trump at the top of the GOP ticket, Toomey will be faced with a tough choice. He can support the Republican nominee and abandon his values and his base. Or he can stay true to those values, break with Trump and hope to hang onto some of his Republican support.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has only added to Toomey's woes. Within an hour of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death, McConnell said, “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

For Toomey, who quickly signed on to McConnell's edict, it exposes him on another flank. There is not much that senators are required to do, but providing “advice and consent” over judicial nominations is one of those tasks spelled out in the Constitution.

Toomey now must persuade voters to re-elect him, even though he has refused to perform a key part of his job. He will have to explain why he gets to pick and choose what he is willing to do when regular Americans show up for work and do their jobs every day.

McConnell has done no favors for any of the Republican senators who are running this year, most of whom are wracked with political fear, looking for ways to combat a Trump nomination. With 24 Republican senators fighting to keep their seats, toeing the McConnell line only leads to more of the gridlock that has voters looking elsewhere.

And McConnell's excuses are bunk. He claims that presidents who are near the end of their terms should leave nominations to the new president. Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt each dispelled that in some manner.

McConnell says the choice should be left to the people, suggesting that Americans might vote for a new president based on the kinds of nominees that would be made to the court. Ever in Obama-denial, McConnell still cannot admit that the voters did that when they elected President Obama — twice.

Scalia would have laughed at McConnell's vapid reasoning and likely would have called this foolishness “pure applesauce” and “jiggery-pokery.”

Then, he might have replayed his own nomination by President Reagan in 1976. There were no McConnell-style political shenanigans, and Scalia was confirmed by a bipartisan Senate vote of 98-0.

Republican senators running for re-election face some tough choices. If they want to separate themselves from Trump, they should separate from the whole mess and break with McConnell and his bad advice, too. If Pat Toomey wants to stay in the game, doing his job and following the Constitution will be a good start.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill.

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