A day after being battered by Republicans with the 24-year-old words of Vice President Biden, the Senate’s top Democrat launched a new line of attack Tuesday against the GOP blockade of President Obama’s coming Supreme Court nominee: It’s all about Donald Trump.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) invoked the Republican presidential front-runner, along with fellow candidate Ted Cruz, in Senate floor remarks Tuesday morning, calling them emblematic of an obstructionist philosophy now manifesting itself in the battle to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
The Republican party, Reid said, is “unconditionally surrendering its moral compass to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz” by blockading a Democratic nominee. “I ask my Republican colleagues, whose side do you want to be on? Whose voice do we listen to? These voices of moderation and reason coming from within your own party or the shrill voices, the shrill, shrill voices of Trump and Cruz?”
Reid mentioned Trump a dozen times in his remarks, but only briefly mentioned Biden — who in 1992, while serving as Judiciary Committee chairman, called on then-President George H.W. Bush not to fill a potential vacancy “until after the November election is completed” and suggested that, if he did, the Senate “should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over.”
Biden’s statements, Reid notes, came in June of an election year, not February: “We have 333 days left
in president Obama’s term of office, so there’s plenty of time to get the work done.”
Reid concluded his remarks with a call for Republicans to “do your job” and fill the Scalia vacancy — which appears destined to become the Democratic refrain for the coming weeks and, likely, months. Later Tuesday morning, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) appeared on the Senate floor with a placard reading: “Tell Senate Republicans: Do Your Job.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking on the floor before Reid, invoked Biden’s comments at length and noted that “the signs of the season are all around us.”
“Volunteers are knocking on doors, caucuses are caucusing, voters are voting, countless ballots have been cast already,” he said. “It’s campaign season. We’re right in the middle of it, and one of the most important issues now is this: Who will Americans trust to nominate the next Supreme Court justice?”
Senate Republicans are set to convene midday Tuesday for a pair of crucial meetings that could determine the course of their opposition to an Obama high-court nominee — perhaps determining whether they will unite behind a strategy of denying even a committee hearing. That appeared to be the most likely outcome Monday, with several senior Republicans saying they did not favor holding hearings on a nominee that is sure to be rejected.
“Once you take the position that this should not occur during this electrifying and broad political season, I think people will respect that,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a former Judiciary Committee chairman. The committee’s current chairman, Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), appeared to embrace a no-hearings strategy in a Monday floor speech setting out what he called the “Biden Rules” for handling an election-year Supreme Court vacancy.
Meanwhile, in a bid to defuse the increasingly toxic political situation surrounding the vacancy, one Senate Democrat on the Judiciary Committee suggested that the president specifically steer away from the type of historic nominee that liberal activists would cheer.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who joined the panel in 2011 after the most recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, said that he has told White House advisers to avoid an ideological showdown.
In suggesting the “most credible” and “most centrist” nominee, Coons said that replacing Scalia with a liberal version of the staunchly conservative jurist could result in deadlock and leave the seat vacant for many, many months to come. “I don’t think this moment calls for that,” Coons said Tuesday morning in a news briefing.
He defended Biden, whose Senate seat Coons now holds, from Republican attacks about the 1992 comments by saying that the overriding message from the vice president back then was to avoid an ideological showdown.
“Don’t nominate an ideologue,” Coons said Tuesday, paraphrasing what he believes Biden meant back then as a senator.
Paul Kane contributed to this report.