Politics In The News: Scalia's Unexpected Death
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
After the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend, President Obama said he intends to fill the vacancy in his final months in office.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time. And there will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote.
GREENE: Now, some Republicans suggested that the president just leave a Supreme Court nominee to his successor.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
This issue is likely to be big in the presidential campaign and controversial in the Senate, where Supreme Court nominees are confirmed. Let's bring in Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Hey, Cokie.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise. Hi, David.
GREENE: Hi, Cokie. And also with us in the studio this morning, Amy Walter. She's national editor of The Cook Political Report. Amy, thanks for coming in.
AMY WALTER: Of course, good morning.
GREENE: Cokie, let's start with you. I mean, President Obama says he'll have a nominee. Republicans in the Senate say no, you should just wait until there's another president. Is this a total impasse?
ROBERTS: Yes, it's going to be a - the first fight is going to be over whether the president should even send up a nominee. And each side is marshalling precedents. The Democrats say, look, Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in the last year of Reagan's presidency, 1988. The Republicans have found a sense of the Senate resolution from 1960, the last year of Eisenhower's administration, saying that the president should not do any recess appointments since he had initially appointed Earl Warren and William Brennan as - very controversial later justices - as recess appointments. So that's going to be an enormous fight. And it's going to put the Senate back into that just deadlock that it's been in for so many years that initially Mitch McConnell was trying to get them out of. But it looks like he's dug in here as well.
GREENE: The familiar deadlock, we should say. It's something we've gotten used to (laughter).
ROBERTS: A very familiar deadlock in the Senate, exactly.
KELLY: Amy, let me ask you to jump in here on this question of the politics of the Senate because for members of the Senate who are running for reelection, I mean, Republicans had wanted to go home to their constituents with a record of accomplishment, of having gotten something done. How does this impact things for them?
WALTER: Well, that's an interesting question. And let's be really clear. If - this is not just a Republican problem. If the shoe were on the other foot and we had a Republican president in a Democratic Senate, we would be in exactly the same position we are in today. The question, then, for senators who were up in 2016 is it's a very delicate balancing act. And it's the balancing act that Republicans in the House and Senate have been trying to and sometimes not successfully accomplishing, which is showing that they're getting things done, that they're appealing to - if they're in a swing state - the sort of moderate swing voters, but not losing the enthusiasm of the Republican base. And right now, that Republican base is more engaged than we've seen in the last eight years. We're seeing record turnout in presidential primaries. So I think that is going to be the challenge moving forward. Already we've seen two vulnerable senators up in 2016 from swing states, Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire and Ron Johnson Wisconsin, saying, you know what? We agree with Mitch McConnell. Let's wait until next year.
GREENE: You know, I just listen to you there, Amy, talking about, you know, the Republican base and then talking about moderate Republicans. And Cokie, some of the presidential candidates already now going after some of their own - Jeb Bush - going after Jeb Bush for his brother.
ROBERTS: (Laughter) Some of their own.
GREENE: Yes, for his - I mean, for his brother and father and their Supreme Court picks. I mean, George H. W. Bush picking David Souter and then John Roberts being chosen by George W. Bush - Supreme Court justices who some conservatives have not been all that happy with.
ROBERTS: Well, they're going after Jeb Bush on a whole variety of things, and that's just the latest. But...
GREENE: The latest on the list.
ROBERTS: I'm here in South Carolina, where early voting has already started for the Republican primary that is coming up this Saturday, a crucial primary for Jeb Bush. If he doesn't do well here in South Carolina, he basically has to get out of the race. His brother, George, is coming in today to North Charleston for what's expected to be a big rally. But look; you have these Republican candidates absolutely going after each other on all kinds of things Saturday night. We have not seen a debate like that, maybe ever. It was just - it was just so vitriolic in so many ways that I think it didn't - it's probably rough on all of the candidates. Donald Trump absolutely got attacked regularly. But he then went on the attack in a very kind of mean way. And you combine that with the ads that are up here in South Carolina - lots and lots of negative ads against Trump and against Ted Cruz. You've got quite a Republican race going on.
KELLY: Can I just hold us here for a minute, on this question of the debate Saturday night? Because it was fascinating. I mean, calling - you know, candidates calling each other - calling each other liars outright to their faces, insults flying. Amy, do we know how voters are responding to that?
WALTER: We haven't seen any recent polls since the debate. But here's where I think we are in this Republican race right now. Look, Donald Trump is a front-runner right now. But he's an incredibly polarizing front-runner. And the reality is I think he has something of a ceiling between 25 and 30 percent of the vote, the rest of the Republicans voting right now saying, we want somebody else. The problem for those somebody-else candidates is they haven't agreed to who that anti-Trump candidate's going to be. And to Cokie's point about the race right now with Jeb Bush, he is fighting to be that alternative candidate. But so is Marco Rubio. So is John Kasich. And so is Ted Cruz. And right now, that vote, that 65, 70 percent, is getting split between the three of them, leaving Trump still in the lead.
GREENE: Cokie, what about the Democratic side? Is - are we going to see a shift now in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders with, you know, Supreme Court nomination taking center stage?
ROBERTS: Well, I think it raises the stakes when Democrats start - both sides start looking at the Supreme Court. It was already an issue because of the ages of some of the justices. But now there's an actual vacancy. And you will start to have some voters saying, whoops, this really does count. And the question of electability might then raise - come up in their concerns. In New Hampshire, only 12 percent of the Democrats said they cared about electability. They went about 80 percent for Hillary Clinton. And so you can expect her to hammer that home over the next few days. Of course, the Democrats have a caucus coming up in Nevada on Saturday.
ROBERTS: And she has been working that one hard with John Lewis, the civil rights icon, traveling with her. And you can be sure that he will be talking about the Supreme Court and how important that is in terms of voters getting out for his candidate, Hillary Clinton.
GREENE: All right, Cokie Roberts joins us most Mondays. Cokie, have a good week.
ROBERTS: You too.
GREENE: And Amy Walter is national editor of The Cook Political Report. Thanks for joining us, Amy.
WALTER: You're welcome.
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