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Political Rancor Intensifies Over Who Should Nominate Scalia Successor
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Political Rancor Intensifies Over Who Should Nominate Scalia Successor

Politics

Political Rancor Intensifies Over Who Should Nominate Scalia Successor

Political Rancor Intensifies Over Who Should Nominate Scalia Successor
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/466974545/466974546" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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President Obama takes questions from reporters at the end of a conference with leaders from Asia. He's expected to be asked about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and who he may nominate to replace him.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama has said very little since the unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and within the hour, he's likely to be peppered with questions about his plans to fill the vacancy. The president will be holding a news conference from California where he's wrapping up a summit with Southeast Asian leaders.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. And Scott, President Obama's expected to nominate a replacement for Scalia soon after the Senate returns from recess next week. But Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell insists that the choice should be left to the next president. Is either side giving any ground?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: On the contrary, Robert, they are both trying to line up precedents to justify the positions they've taken. McConnell put his marker down on Saturday night within hours of Scalia's death, saying the vacant seat should not be filled until we have a new president in office. Obama fired back, saying, look; there's plenty of time to seat a new justice this year while I'm still in office. And White House Spokesman Eric Schultz is defending the president's timetable. Schultz pointed to the last time the Senate had to deal with a Supreme Court nominee during the final year of a president's term.

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ERIC SCHULTZ: In 1988 when President Ronald Reagan was advocating for his own nominee against a Democratic Senate, he said, quote, every day that passes with a Supreme Court below full strength impairs the people's business in that crucially important body. We couldn't agree more.

HORSLEY: Ultimately, the Democratic Senate did approve Reagan's nominee, Anthony Kennedy, although Republicans would note that vacancy actually opened up the previous year in 1987.

SIEGEL: Are Senate Republicans planning to just ignore the president's nominee and run out the clock until the November election?

HORSLEY: Yeah, that's a good question. Senator McConnell seems to suggest that the whole confirmation process should just be put on ice until there's a new president. But Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, left the door open just a crack to at least hold a hearing on an Obama nominee. Grassley was asked about this today on a conference call with Iowa reporters, and he said, in effect, let's wait and see.

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CHUCK GRASSLEY: Well, ask your question again when a nominee comes up 'cause I'm going to take this a step at a time.

HORSLEY: Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina also said today the GOP should avoid rejecting Obama's nominee sight unseen. Tillis, who's also on the Judiciary Committee, warned that could run the risk of being seen as obstructionist. So there is, at least, a possibility that the person this president nominates could get a Senate hearing.

SIEGEL: And what is the White House saying about possible nominees?

HORSLEY: The president's spokesman, Eric Schultz, has pointed to criteria that Obama himself has spelled out in the past - that is someone with strong legal qualifications, someone who would adhere to precedents and faithfully apply the law and a quality that Obama used to refer to as empathy before that term fell out of fashion during the confirmation fight over Sonya Sotomayor.

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SCHULTZ: The president seeks judges who understand that justice is not about some abstract legal theory or a footnote in a casebook, but it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives.

HORSLEY: And in this case, of course, Obama's own daily reality dictates some addition consideration. That is what kind of nominee has even a prayer of attracting bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled Senate and, if you want to look at this through a purely cynical political lens, whose nomination boosts turnout among Democrats in November and who gives Republicans the most heartburn if they oppose him.

SIEGEL: Just one other point, Scott - the news of Antonin Scalia's death overshadowed the summit that Obama was hosting with 10 Southeast Asian leaders. What did they have to talk about?

HORSLEY: This was a summit that was devoted to both prosperity and security. Last night, they talked about trade. Several of the countries that are taking part in this summit are signatories to that Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that the White House has been promoting. They're also talking about securing trade routes in the South China Sea where there's some competing territorial claims.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

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