supreme court vacancy McConnell shuts door on Senate action
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell emphatically ruled out any Senate action on whoever President Barack Obama nominates to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, an extraordinary step that escalated the partisan election-year struggle over replacing the late Antonin Scalia. Democrats promised unremitting pressure on Republicans to back down or face the consequences in November’s voting.
After winning unanimous public backing from the 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, McConnell told reporters that that panel would have no hearings and ruled out a full Senate vote until the next president offers a nomination. Such steps would defy many decades of precedent that have seen even the most-controversial choices questioned publicly by the Judiciary Committee and nearly always sent to the entire chamber for a vote, barring nominees the White House has withdrawn.
“In short, there will not be action taken,” McConnell told reporters.
The Kentucky Republican said he wouldn’t even meet with an Obama selection should the White House follow tradition and send the nominee to Capitol Hill to visit senators. Such a snub could generate campaign-season television images of a scorned selection standing outside a closed door.
“I don’t know the purpose of such a visit,” McConnell said. “I would not be inclined to take one myself.”
Obama is expected to announce a nomination in the next few weeks. Since the Senate started routinely referring presidential nominations to committees for action in 1955, every Supreme Court nominee not later withdrawn has received a Judiciary Committee hearing, according to the Senate Historical Office.
With the issue certain to roil this year’s presidential and congressional elections, Democrats said Republicans were topping their own obstructionist high-water mark of three years ago, when their doomed effort to force Obama to repeal his own health care law helped produce a 16-day partial government shutdown.
They also accused Republicans of following the lead of billionaire Donald Trump, a leading GOP presidential candidate who’s called on Senate Republicans to derail any Obama court selection. Democrats and some Republicans believe that if Trump is the GOP presidential nominee, he will cost Republicans seats in Congress.
“The party of Lincoln is now the party of Donald Trump,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters.
Filling the vacancy left by Scalia’s unexpected death on Feb. 13 is crucial because without him, the Supreme Court is left in a 4-4 ideological knot between justices who are usually conservative and its liberal wing.
The battle has invigorated both sides’ interest groups and voters who focus on abortion, immigration and other issues before the court.