With Republicans struggling to take a unified position, Senate Democrats boasted Tuesday that the GOP would eventually cave and allow full committee hearings and a confirmation vote on the eventual nominee to succeed the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“This is a huge overreach by Leader McConnell,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the No. 3 Democratic leader, said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.
That followed a similar declaration from the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — “McConnell will back down,” spokesman Adam Jentleson wrote in an email to the media. A series of statements from senior Republicans contradicted their own previously expressed views and seemed to question whether rank-and-file Republicans were completely on board with the plan from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to do nothing on a Supreme Court nominee this year and let the next president make the nomination.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) told Iowa radio reporters that he had not determined whether to have hearings before the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. “I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decision,” Grassley, the committee chairman, said.
Another member of the Judiciary panel, freshman Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), noted that Republicans could not expect to have President Obama choose a nominee in the mold of Scalia, who for almost 30 years has been the ideological leader of the court’s conservative bloc, and must worry about being seen as merely obstructing the president.
“That’s unlikely to happen, but I think we fall into the trap if we just simply say ‘Sight unseen,’ we fall into the trap of being obstructionist,” Tillis said on “The Tyler Cralle Show” on WAAV in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The heir to Reid’s leadership post, Schumer predicted that the muddled statements of Grassley and Tillis were the first signs that Republicans would eventually have to consider Obama’s nominee, particularly after so much effort by McConnell to portray his tenure as more productive and functional than previous Congresses.
“He’s been trying to get away from [dysfunction], and in one fell swoop he undid everything he tried to do,” he said.
Grassley and Tillis’s newer statements contradicted their own previous ones. On Saturday night, hours after Scalia’s death was announced, Grassley cited a “standard practice” of not confirming justices when the opening occurs in the last year of a presidency, suggesting he would “defer to the American people” and let the election take place before considering a replacement. Tillis also issued a statement saying the decision “would be best left to the next president”.
Those contradictions illustrated the difficulty Republicans face in trying to explain their current posture — doing nothing — at a time when they have been congratulating themselves for having a relatively productive first year in the majority after winning the 2014 midterm elections. They are locked in a battle for the Senate majority in November and a Supreme Court nomination battle could significantly impact their races.
McConnell’s position is that no hearing will be held and no vote taken on whoever Obama nominates to replace Scalia. He argues the next president should make the choice because replacing Scalia could tilt the ideological balance of the court for a generation to come.
Advisers to McConnell suggested there had been no crack in their armor, and they instead issued another memo seeking to suggest that Republicans intended to follow the “Schumer Standard”, based on a 2007 speech. In that speech, the Democrat suggested a new standard should be used that would have likely prevented any additional Supreme Court justices from being confirmed during the last 18 months of George W. Bush’s presidency and potentially beyond.
“For the rest of this president’s term and if there is another Republican elected with the same selection criteria, let me say this: We should reverse the presumption of confirmation. … I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm a Supreme court nominee except in extraordinary circumstances,” Schumer said in 2007.
On Tuesday, Schumer said that nowhere in his speech did he suggest Democrats, in the majority back then, not consider a Supreme Court nomination but instead that they consider the nominee and vote against confirmation if those hearings brought similar results as the vetting and hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
“These guys deliberately hid their views from us,” Schumer said.