In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Perhaps the panic in Washington that Donald Trump will become the GOP's 2016 nominee echoed all the way to Texas. Because at Thursday’s CNN/Telemundo debate in Houston, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz took a break from hitting each other to aim some shots at the Republican primary’s frontrunner.

Trump didn’t take these punches lying down. He steamrolled Rubio’s criticisms of his hiring practices by roaring back, "You've hired nobody." And he was quick to remind Cruz that none of his colleagues in the Senate GOP had endorsed him. Many of the night's tussles climaxed with Rubio and Cruz barking at Trump simultaneously, while Trump, in between them, effortlessly batted them both off.

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When Republicans announced this week that they would not even hold hearings for President Barack Obama's eventual nominee to the Supreme Court, Democrats were floored.

They weren’t expecting the political battle royale Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) challenged them to, but publicly and privately they say that they think McConnell has overreached and given them a political opening.

A Democratic leadership aide called the situation “a win, win, win, win, win for us."

"All we have to do is not screw this up," the aide said.

The biggest test for Democrats, and the source of the most uncertainty, is sustaining the message all the way until November. With no confirmation hearings, high-profile courtesy calls for the nominee to pay to GOP senators, or any of the other media-heavy trappings of the normal confirmation process, keeping the story afloat will be their challenge. But that effort is already underway.

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Donald Trump said just hours after news broke that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died that the Senate should "delay, delay, delay" the confirmation of Obama's nominee to replace him on the court. Now, Democrats are saying that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is following the Republican presidential frontrunner's lead when it comes to blocking Obama's pick.

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Updated at 2:33 p.m. ET

Key Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee emerged from a closed door meeting in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office Tuesday united in their determination not to consider any nominee to replace Antonin Scalia until the next president takes office.

Tuesday was the first full day the Senate was back in session since Scalia's death Feb. 13.

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Republicans keep calling their refusal to even consider President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court in an election year a “tradition.” But it is really just the opposite.

The current situation is unprecedented, and not just by virtue of the level of the obstruction Senate Republicans are proposing. It is a happenstance of history but in the modern era, a Supreme Court seat has almost never come open in an election year while the Senate is controlled by the opposite party of the president.

(The one time it did happen, in 1956, President Eisenhower recess-nominated a Democrat, William Brennan.)

While the Senate has the raw power to simply refuse to consider a Supreme Court nominee, the chance to do so in the final year of an opposing president's term has simply not come up.

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