re: SCOTUS Nomination, what is Obama's long game?

You are so misreading that rule. The Vice-President cannot address the Senate means present bills, debate, make speeches, etc. because he is not a Senator. There is nothing that prevents him from actually presiding.
Cite

If that happens then it becomes normal practice for no new justices to get appointed unless one party controls the White House and the Senate.

And I’m sure the GOP does not want that, at least not consciously. A Pub POTUS could be stymied in exactly the same way – not only if the Dems have a Senate majority, but if they hold even enough seats to support a filibuster – and through gradual attrition the SCOTUS could be reduced to its three or four youngest justices.

But I am beginning to wonder whether the Congressional Pubs are even capable, any more, of thinking that far ahead.

It’s short term politics at its worst.

But they’ve painted themselves into a corner, haven’t they? They know they won’t be in politics in the long term unless they keep the worst and stupidest elements of their base happy. At this point, any Pub senator who suggests holding hearings on Garland risks being primaried from the right (not this year, perhaps, too late, but there’s always another election coming up).

I think caving is still the best bet though. Unfortunately, teh President did not actually nominate someone conservative enough that we could just declare victory to save face. Garland is actually a liberal on most issues(at least the ones Obama cares about). So the choices are either surrender or hold firm. Sometimes it’s best to surrender.