Marco Rubio trails by Donald Trump by 20 points ahead of Saturday's South Carolina Republican primary, a contest that has all but once in its history chosen the party's eventual nominee. But as Rubio began his final pitch to conservative voters Wednesday morning at a Shriners' Hall in Mt. Pleasant, there was one subject he wouldn't talk about: Trump.
In recent days, his Republican rivals—mainly Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush—have tried to position themselves as the Trump slayer. And Rubio's own campaign manager has publicly contemplated the prospect of a Trump-dominated contest leading to a brokered convention. But for now Rubio himself is not directly addressing the guy who's poised to blowhim and the other GOP contenders out of the water in the Palmetto State. Instead of decrying Trump's impact on the Republican Party, he's been expressing concern about the hostile takeover of the other major party. "The Democratic party's been taken over by radical left-wing elements—their leading contender leading in some of the national polls is an avowed Democratic Socialist," he told the a few hundred voters at Shriners' Hall. "I promise you that if someone that far right as he is far left had taken over the Republican party, every day you'd be hearing stories the Republican party has become radicalized—the Democratic party's been radicalized!"
Rubio, though, could not resist a tangential dig at the real estate mogul. He raised the subject of eminent domain, and said, "Theoretically, I'm not saying this happens, but theoretically for a moment, imagine that a developer decided they wanted to take private property away to build a hotel or something like that—just theoretically." The largely-supportive audience laughed, and Rubio continued: "After the Kelo decision in 2006, the Supreme Court said that's legal—a developer can use the power of government to take away your property because government thinks they'd rather have a hotel there instead of a house. You can't do that in Florida because when I was in the state legislature I led the effort to pass a law that would become a model for the country."
That was a dig at Trump, who has been attacked by his GOP foes for having used eminent domain for his own private projects. But it did seem that Rubio had decided not to mention the T-word—as if speaking the name might disturb the exiled Dark Lord and his Death Eaters.
Rubio did not take questions at the event, which was advertised as a town hall. But speaking to reporters afterwards, the Florida senator ripped into Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, accusing his legislative colleague of being a politician who "will say and do anything to get elected." Rubio also brought up the massive ad campaign by a pro-Jeb Bush super-PAC to take him down (by, among other things, making fun of his boots). But no explicit slam on Trump. On this matter, the most hawkish guy in the race is a real dove.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead on Saturday, leaving a vacancy on the highest court nine months before Election Day. That should leave President Barack Obama plenty of time to find a qualified replacement to succeed Scalia. But within minutes of the announcement that Scalia had died, prominent conservatives began demanding that no new justice be confirmed until after Obama's presidency ends next year. In essence, they want the Republican-controlled Senate to block any nomination that Obama might send it. And leading this charge was Sen. Ted Cruz, a GOP presidential candidate. In a tweet, Cruz declared, "Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement." Soon after that, Sen. Marco Rubio, another presidential wannabe, said the same.
This is a quickly spreading right-wing meme. Here are other conservatives demanding government obstruction to deny Obama the chance to fulfill his constitutional duty:
Look forward to this issue—when to fill Scalia's slot and who should appoint his successor—becoming a major fight in the presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the judiciary committee, issued this statement: "I hope that no one will use this sad news to suggest POTUS should not perform its [sic] constitutional duty." He was a little late with that.
Update: Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has weighed in too:
Let's dispel once and for all the notion that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders don't know what they're doing—they know exactly what they're doing, and on Thursday night in Milwaukee, at the second Democratic presidential debate since the field narrowed to two candidates, they sparred over the issues that will define their contest going forward, without moving the needle in any obvious direction. The two-hour debate, moderated by Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill of PBS, put the candidates on the spot on issues of race and gender, while returning again and again to the themes that dominated their earlier meetings: Wall Street, Medicare, and the Middle East.
Both candidates made an effort to shore up earlier weak spots. Sanders had a ready response on charges he'd stood in the way of immigration reform; Clinton continued to insulate herself from accusations that she was a pawn of corporate interests, and she used her relationship with President Barack Obama as the rough equivalent of a character reference in a job interview. Whatever the consequences, Clinton and Sanders will be stuck with them for a while. The next scheduled debate isn't until March 6—five days after Super Tuesday.
Civil rights icon John Lewis told reporters that he never encountered Bernie Sanders when the Vermont senator was working with Lewis' Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. Because he made his remarks at a press conference announcing the Congressional Black Caucus PAC's endorsement of Sanders' opponent, Hillary Clinton, Lewis' comments can be seen as a mild dig at Sanders. (In the same breath he said he had met Bill and Hillary Clinton.)
But it's also undoubtedly true.
The Georgia congressman was a titan of the civil rights movement. A participant in the Freedom Rides organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), he went on to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and still bears the scars he received at Selma. Sanders' involvement was, by comparison, brief and localized, his sacrifices limited to one arrest for protesting and a bad GPA from neglecting his studies. But Sanders was, in his own right, an active participant in the movement during his three years at the University of Chicago.
Although Sanders did attend the 1963 March on Washington, at which Lewis spoke, most of his work was in and around Hyde Park, where he became involved with the campus chapter of CORE shortly after transferring from Brooklyn College in 1961. During Sanders' first year in Chicago, a group of apartment-hunting white and black students had discovered that off-campus buildings owned by the university were refusing torent to black students, in violation of the school's policies. CORE organized a 15-day sit-in at the administration building, which Sanders helped lead. (James Farmer, who co-founded CORE and had been a Freedom Rider with Lewis, came to the University of Chicago that winter to praise the activists' work.) The protest ended when George Beadle, the university's president, agreed to form a commission to study the school's housing policies.
Sanders was one of two students from CORE appointed to the commission, which included the neighborhood's alderman and state representative, in addition to members of the administration. But not long afterward, Sanders blew up at the administration, accusing Beadle of reneging on his promise and refusing to answer questions from students on its integration plan. In an open letter in the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, Sanders vented about the double-cross:
That spring, with Sanders as its chairman, the university chapter of CORE merged with the university chapter of SNCC. Sanders announced plans to take the fight to the city of Chicago, and in the fall of 1962 he followed through, organizing picketers at a Howard Johnson in Cicero. Sanders told the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper, that he wanted to keep the pressure on the restaurant chain afterthe arrest of 12 CORE demonstrators in North Carolina for trying to eat at a Howard Johnson there:
Sanders left his leadership role at the organization not long afterward; his grades suffered so much from his activism that a dean asked him to take some time off from school. (He didn't take much interest in his studies, anyway.) But he continued his activism with CORE and SNCC. In August of 1963, not long after returning to Chicago from the March on Washington, Sanders was charged with resisting arrest after protesting segregation at a school on the city's South Side. He was later fined $25, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the progressive icon who led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the civil rights movement, on Thursday dismissed Sen. Bernie Sanders' participation in that movement.
When a reporter asked Lewis to comment on Sanders' involvement in the movement—Sanders as a college student at the University of Chicago was active in civil rights work—the congressman brusquely interrupted him. "Well, to be very frank, I'm going to cut you off, but I never saw him, I never met him," Lewis said. "I'm a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and directed their voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."
The preeminent civil rights hero's pooh-poohing of Sanders came at a press conference where the Congressional Black Caucus PAC announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. The PAC is somewhat separate from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which is a group of 46 African American members of the House. (All its members are Democratic but one.) But the PAC is chaired by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a CBC member, and its 20-person board is made up of seven CBC members and several lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants. Some media accounts are depicting this endorsement as the action of the CBC. But Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and a CBC member, sent out an accusatory tweet shortly before the endorsement, complaining, "Cong'l Black Caucus (CBC) has NOT endorsed in presidential. Separate CBCPAC endorsed withOUT input from CBC membership, including me." Ellison is one of two House members who have officially backed Sanders.
The CBC PAC endorsement of Clinton was hosted at the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, which raises questions about the DNC's supposed impartiality in the Clinton-Sanders race. An official at the Democratic National Committee says that the party had nothing to do with the CBC PAC's event, which was held at DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill. "Members of Congress who are dues paying members of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] can reserve the space," he told Mother Jones in an email.
As Mother Jonesreported previously, Sanders was involved in the campus chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), another civil rights group:
During his junior year, Sanders, by then president of the university's CORE chapter, led a picket of a Howard Johnson's restaurant in Chicago, part of a coordinated nationwide protest against the motel and restaurant chain's racially discriminatory policies. Sanders eventually resigned his post at CORE, citing a heavy workload, and took some time off from school.
Under Sanders' leadership, the CORE group at University of Chicago joined forces with SNCC's campus chapter, held sit-ins to protest segregation in university-owned apartment buildings, and raised money for voter registration efforts focused on African Americans.
The CBC PAC endorsement comes at a key time in the Democratic primary contest, as Clinton and Sanders head toward the next primary in South Carolina on February 27. The Democratic electorate in that state has a high percentage of African Americans, and a crucial question for both campaigns is whether Sanders can find support with black voters or whether Clinton will maintain her commanding lead in the polls among this group. Political observers have pointed to South Carolina as the state where Clinton has a shot at arresting Sanders' post-New Hampshire momentum due to her standing with black voters. With the fight on for black voters, endorsements from the African American community are important for each campaign—and Lewis' comments won't help Sanders.