Senate Republicans Unite Around Plan To Block Obama Supreme Court Nominee
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans are lining up behind him. He's talking about his decision not to consider any nominee President Obama might tap for the Supreme Court.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: In my view, and I can now confidently say the view shared by virtually everybody in my conference, is that the nomination should be made by the president the people elect in the election that's underway right now.
SIEGEL: NPR's Susan Davis covers Congress, and she joins us now to talk about the latest from Capitol Hill in the fight to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. And Sue, Senator McConnell sounds very confident. Why is he so confident?
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, what we heard from McConnell today is that, you know, his Senate Republican colleagues - they have his back. All 11 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is the panel that plays a very crucial role in approving nominees, today announced in a letter unanimous support for McConnell's decision, which means they will not have any committee hearings. They will not have any committee votes. And without committee action, it's highly unlikely a nominee would ever get a vote on the floor because the floor is controlled by Mitch McConnell, who certainly does not have a reputation on Capitol Hill from backing down from these flights.
He also said today, among other top Republicans like John Cornyn of Texas, that they wouldn't even meet with a nominee if and when President Obama makes his announcement. Now, only two Republicans that we know of - Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois - have voiced any doubt about this plan. But someone like Kirk - he's up for reelection in Obama's home state, so he's got his own home-state politics to think about.
SIEGEL: In Illinois. Is this what you would expect from the party that doesn't control the White House?
DAVIS: Well, that's what Republicans are saying, you know? They're pointing now to something that they're calling the Biden rules for nominees - Supreme Court nominees made in presidential election years. In 1992, when Joe Biden was still in the Senate, he was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he spoke on the Senate floor about is very dynamic. Take a listen to what he said then.
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JOE BIDEN: As a result, it is my view that if a Supreme Court justice resigns tomorrow or in the next several weeks or resigns at the end of the summer, President Bush should consider the following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not - and not - name a nominee until after the November election is completed.
SIEGEL: And of course, the President Bush that he was referring to is George H.W. Bush...
SIEGEL: ...Which was in the - what turned out to be his last year in office. How do the Democrats explain that one, Sue?
DAVIS: Well, the White House has backtracked on this, and Senate Democrats say, look; these remarks were taken out of context. This was a theoretical debate because there were no vacancies in 1992 at the time of Biden's remarks. There is a vacancy now, and Democrats say don't try and rehash past quotes; let's look at their record. They say Democrats have never preemptively blocked a nominee before they were even announced.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid today also said, look; there were justices like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito who were conservatives the Democrats did not support but they ultimately did not block from getting a vote. Clearly these past remarks are going to be an issue for Democrats as the Senate rolls on in this fight.
SIEGEL: President Obama says that he's going ahead with this nomination. Do we know anything about his timing?
DAVIS: White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said he's not going to give any specifics but that in the past, for Obama nominees, it's taken about four to six weeks. Senators I talked to today said they expect an announcement in weeks and not months. And the president is definitely making calls on Capitol Hill to senators, asking them for their input and support for who he should pick to be his nominee.
SIEGEL: Sue, you mentioned that all of the Republicans on Judiciary are with Majority Leader...
SIEGEL: ...McConnell on this. That includes the chairman, I assume, Chuck Grassley of Iowa?
DAVIS: It does include Chuck Grassley, and like McConnell, he also said that he would be unlikely to meet - even meet with a nominee when President Obama makes his announcement.
SIEGEL: Thank you.
DAVIS: Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Susan Davis from Capitol Hill.
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