Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley on Thursday accused Democrats of playing politics with the Supreme Court nomination by calling for a hearing even though Republicans contend no candidate submitted by President Barack Obama would win the Senate's approval.
"Why all this outrage about a hearing? Why the demands for a hearing that everyone knows would never result in a confirmation?" the Iowa Republican asked at his committee's first meeting to discuss the high court vacancy created by Antonin Scalia's death last month. "It’s because the other side is committed to using this process to score as many political points as possible. That’s it. Plain and simple."
Democrats on the committee stressed that the decision isn't about politics or personality, but about the Senate's constitutional duty to provide "advice and consent" to the president.
"It’s really not about him or any one of us," said the committee's ranking member, Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. "It’s about the Constitution.”
The meeting came nearly one month after Scalia died on Feb. 13. Shortly after the conservative justice's death, Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., decided they would not hold hearings or a vote on any election-year Supreme Court nominee, arguing that the American people should have a voice in the court's makeup, and the next president should fill the vacancy.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said the GOP position's could end up becoming the rule for how to handle a high court vacancy in an election year. "We are setting a precedent here," the South Carolina Republican said. "That's going to be the new rule."
He then put his colleagues on notice that they were making a bet on the election that didn’t favor their side. And he let them know that in the event Hillary Clinton was elected president, he would vote for her nominee to fill Scalia’s seat if that person is qualified.
“In the unlikely event we lose the White House," he said, "which I know is hard to believe given the dynamic of the Republican Party. But just in case we lose, and I know that seems impossible to imagine. Hillary Clinton’s going to be president. … Let’s just assume for a moment she is president. I’m telling everybody on my side, she’s probably going to pick someone more liberal than President Obama’s going to send over in a few days. And I’m going to vote for that person if I think they’re qualified."
At Thursday's meeting, Democrats and Republicans took their turns stating their positions about whether they should consider Obama's nominee, repeating statements made over the past several weeks. The discussion lasted more than 90 minutes, with members on each side listening to the arguments, but not wavering on their own positions.
Earlier, McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid also discussed the Supreme Court on the floor, with McConnell coming to Grassley's defense, arguing that the committee has been productive under his leadership.
"Here’s a chairman who’s worked to give voices to the voiceless. He’s also got a passion for letting Iowans and the American people be heard," McConnell said. "No wonder he’s working so hard now to give the people a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court."
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, countered that Americans did have a voice in the court's direction when they opted to re-elect Obama in 2012.
“Grassley’s problem isn’t that he wants to give the American people a chance to decide this issue, Reid said. "His problem is that he doesn’t like the decision they’ve already made.”
Grassley did attempt to preempt the partisan discussion before it began Thursday.
"I’m saying this, not for my members, but mostly for people watching on C-SPAN, that often think that everything we do in Washington, D.C. is political or partisan," Grassley said. "This debate coming up will be very partisan. But I hope people remember that over the last 14 months, this committee has acted in a very bipartisan way.”
The Supreme Court standoff spilled into a hearing Wednesday supposed to be focused on Department of Justice oversight. But was it a sign that this conflict will permeate the committee's business for the rest of the year?
“There’s no reason why it should," Leahy said in a brief interview Wednesday. "I mean there’s an easy path forward. I assume the president will obey his constitutional role and nominate somebody and we should obey the solemn oath we took -- when we say, ‘So help me, God’ -- to uphold the Constitution, have a hearing and vote up or down.”
“It’s not as though we can’t do more than one thing at a time," Leahy added.
Obama said Thursday his coming Supreme Court nominee will be someone with "impeccable legal standards" and whose qualifications would not be questioned. He said the choice would be someone who follows the Constitution and precedent, and is not trying to make laws from the bench. He also pressed the Senate to take up the selection.
In the afternoon, the committee's Democrats met with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, Counsel Neil Eggleston, senior adviser Brian Deese, director of White House legislative affairs Amy Rosenbaum and other officials. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said afterward that specific names were not discussed during the closed-door session, nor was the timing of an announcement. Schumer added he is confident the nominee will have "outstanding credentials" and could receive "bipartisan support."
If the Judiciary meeting is any indication, Democrats and Republicans will continue to advance different tactics to push each other on their positions.
At Thursday's meeting, one of committee's Democrats attempted to highlight that the section of the Judiciary Committee website section that says, "Traditionally, the committee refers the nomination to the full Senate for consideration."
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., attempted to pass a "sense of the committee" motion. When it failed, Durbin remarked, "Mr. Chairman it’s time to change your website.”
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