Senate Republican Leaders Say They Won’t Meet With an Obama Supreme Court Nominee

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February 24, 2016

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with other members of the Senate G.O.P. Leadership on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

February 24, 2016

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with other members of the Senate G.O.P. Leadership on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders, trying to slam shut any prospects for an election-year Supreme Court confirmation, said on Tuesday they would not even meet with President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, urged the president to reconsider even submitting a name.

At the same time, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans issued a letter unanimously rejected any confirmation hearings.

The actions of Senate Republican leaders and the committee of jurisdiction sent a clear signal to President Obama and wavering Republicans that their ranks would not crack. It also thrust the Senate into unprecedented territory; Senators meet with high-court nominees as matters of courtesy and cordiality, but even that tradition has been rejected.

Instead, Republican leaders vowed they would not even consider Mr. Obama’s nominee regardless of his or her qualifications.

Democrats lashed out but seemed powerless to force Republicans to alter course. “The Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative body?” the Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, asked, railing against the Republicans. “They’re not going to deliberate at all.”

But Mr. McConnell showed no sign of relenting to the pressure Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats were trying to apply.

“This is his moment,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor, addressing the president. “He has every right to nominate someone. Even if doing so will inevitably plunge our nation into another bitter and avoidable struggle, that is his right. Even if he never expects that nominee to actually be confirmed but rather to wield as an electoral cudgel, that is his right.”

Mr. McConnell added: “But he has also has the right to make a different choice. He can let the people decide and make this an actual legacy-building moment rather than just another campaign roadshow.”

Mr. Obama has made clear that he will choose a nominee, and two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, have already broken ranks to say that they would be willing to vote on a candidate.

But Mr. McConnell and the vast majority of Republicans were holding firm.

“I don’t think we should have a hearing. I think we should let the next president pick,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who a decade ago was one of 14 senators who brokered a deal to end the threat of filibusters against President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

As G.O.P. senators emerged from a meeting in Mr. McConnell’s office, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, said, “We believe that the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president.”

Aides to Mr. McConnell said the majority leader had spoken to Mr. Obama and told him directly that no nominee to the Supreme Court would be confirmed before the election, and they expressed confidence that the Republicans had chosen the best course of action — or inaction, as the case may be.

Mr. McConnell gathered Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in his suite in the Capitol, just off the Senate floor, to confer before a weekly policy luncheon attended by all Republican senators.

While Mr. McConnell has already stated that no nominee will be confirmed, it is ultimately up to the committee chairman, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, to decide if any hearings will be held on Mr. Obama’s pick.

Republican maneuvering came as Democrats scrambled to contain any damage from Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s floor speech as a senator in June 1992 urging President George H.W. Bush not to make a nomination to the Supreme Court until after that year’s presidential election.

Mr. Biden, now the vice president, said his words were taken out of context, and he issued a statement boasting of his record in confirming federal judges while chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Aides to Mr. Biden also insisted on Tuesday that he had been warning against filling a vacancy created by a voluntary resignation of a justice rather than a vacancy created by an unexpected death. In any event, no such vacancy occurred.


Courtesy: NY Times

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