Vice President Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, entered the fray over President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Thursday, demanding that that his former colleagues not "spread this dysfunction" from Capitol Hill to the high court.
"I've never seen it like this," Biden said in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center. Referring to the nomination of Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia, Biden said, "The world looks at this city right now as dysfunctional, and that’s a problem.”
Biden's speech served as an attempt to rebut the Republican portrayal of a lengthy speech he delivered in 1992 about the Supreme Court confirmation process, which Republicans have cited as "the Biden rule" for not even granting hearings or a vote on Garland until the next president takes office in January and makes the selection.
Biden, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued against the consideration of any Supreme Court nominee in that election year because the most recent confirmation, of Justice Clarence Thomas, had been a polarizing process over allegations of sexual harassment.
On Thursday, Biden recited the other portion of that June 1992 speech in which he said that if there was a vacancy, and if President George H.W. Bush consulted with Biden and other Senate leaders to select a consensus choice, he would have held hearings and a vote just weeks before the 1992 election.
"There is no 'Biden rule.' It doesn’t exist," the vice president told more than 200 students, professors and staff at the law school.
GOP Senate leaders, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have said they will not hold a confirmation hearing for Garland because the 2016 campaign is underway and Obama's successor should be allowed to chose the next justice. McConnell has referred to the "Biden rule" in arguing against holding a hearing.
The administration's allies have used the current two-week break in the Senate to organize rallies in states where senators are holding town halls and other events back home, trying to apply pressure particularly on the more than half-dozen Republicans facing potentially difficult elections in the fall.
In his remarks at Georgetown, Biden retraced his own tenure as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, grimacing as he told the students that no one alive had overseen more Supreme Court confirmations. He noted that all eight of those nominees in his tenure received votes.
"Every single time," Biden said, noting Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's confirmation in 1988, a presidential election year.
Biden also warned that a Supreme Court with just eight members would lead to many 4-to-4 decisions, deadlocking the court. That would mean that some states would have different legal decisions, as the Supreme Court often takes up cases when appellate courts from different parts of the country have ruled in different ways on the same legal issue.
"The American people deserve a fully staffed Supreme Court of nine," he said.