In a private meeting on Tuesday, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee decided they will not allow President Obama’s eventual Supreme Court nominee to receive confirmation hearings before a new president is elected in November.
In his Senate floor speech also on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reasoned that, “Presidents have a right to nominate just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent.”
Later, during a press conference, McConnell also indicated he was not inclined to meet with any nominee Obama may put up, as is custom for the Majority Leader to do, explaining that he didn’t “know the purpose of such a visit”, if no hearings are going to be scheduled.
The Senate majority’s refusal to confirm another Obama Supreme Court nominee is somewhat controversial, and feeds into the narrative Congressional Democrats try to promote that the Senate has become more obstructionist than deliberative since Republicans took control of Congress’ upper-chamber in 2014.
Top-ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Patrick Leahy took the opportunity to comment on the apparently unprecedented move.
“During my time on the committee, we have never refused to send a Supreme Court nominee to the full Senate for a confirmation vote, even when the majority of the committee opposed the nomination,” Leahy said.
In the Senate Democratic leadership’s press conference following the legislative floor session, Minority Leader Harry Reid appeared angry at times, quipping that “333 days isn’t enough to do the work that we ordinarily do in 67 days.” The out-going Nevada senator also accused the Republicans of succumbing to the campaign rhetoric of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both of whom have called on the Senate to vote-down whoever the president nominates.
Despite their apparent confidence, Senate Republicans may be defying the will of the American people on this issue. Two separate poll conducted in February by Fox News and Pew Research found that a majority support Obama’s nominee receiving an up-or-down vote after the Senate conducts the normal vetting process.
To counter any potential blow-back, Republicans have seized on a June 1992 Washington Post interview with then-Delaware senator and Judiciary Committee chairman Joe Biden, in which he said that “if (a Justice) steps down, I would highly recommend the president not name someone . . . If (President George H.W. Bush) did send someone up, I would ask the Senate to seriously consider not having a hearing on that nominee.”
Biden also made the following comments on the Senate floor, June 25, 1992:
In an effort to win the public relations battle, the White House has dedicated an entire section of their website to this issue. After presenting the president’s argument for getting his nominee confirmed, and explaining historical precedent on the matter, the feature ends in a quote by President Ronald Reagan, regarding the nomination of Anthony Kennedy in 1988.
“The Federal judiciary is too important to be made a political football,” Reagan proclaimed. “I would hope, and the American people should expect . . . for the Senate to get to work and act.”
The political dynamics of 21st century Washington are barely recognizable compared to the camaraderie that existed during the Reagan Administration when Tip O’Neill and Robert Byrd led their respective majorities in the House and Senate. The days of the Senate “getting to work” to confirm a nominee of the opposition party president are long-gone.
[AP] [CNN] [WhiteHouse.gov] [Photo courtesy teaparty.org]