WASHINGTON, D.C. — Emerging from a meeting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office Tuesday, top Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee said there will be no confirmation hearings on a Supreme Court nominee.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said that’s the “consensus” view among Republicans on the committee and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, of Texas, said the same.
“We believe the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president,” Cornyn said Tuesday as he left the meeting of top Republicans discussing how to handle the White House’s promised nominee.
Graham told CNN separately he would not even meet with any nominee, should he or she make courtesy calls on the Hill.
This comes after McConnell issued his most definitive statement on Tuesday: There will be no Supreme Court nominee confirmed in President Barack Obama’s final year in office.
In a sharply worded statement on the Senate floor, McConnell bluntly warned the White House that the GOP-controlled Senate would not act on anyone he chooses to sit on the high court.
“Presidents have a right to nominate just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent,” McConnell said. “In this case, the Senate will withhold it.”
The announcement prompted sharp criticism from Democrats, who contended that the GOP-led Senate was failing to do its job and would be risking its tenuous hold on the majority in the fall elections.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said McConnell was taking his marching orders from Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who had called on the Senate to delay consideration of any nominee.
“That’s exactly what the Republican leader is doing: Delay, delay, delay,” Reid said. He angrily added that “333 days isn’t enough to do the work that we do ordinarily do in 67 days.”
But Democrats are uncertain over whether to bottle-up the Senate in retaliation for the GOP’s hardball move. And for the second day in a row, Vice President Joe Biden is center stage as Senate Republican leaders are growing increasingly confident they can unite their party behind a hard-ball strategy to block any consideration of an Obama nominee.
Republicans are seizing on old Democratic talking points — focused namely on then-Sen. Joe Biden — to make their case against confirmation proceedings.
The latest revelation: A June 1992 interview Biden gave to The Washington Post, arguing against confirmation hearings of a prospective nominee by President George H.W. Bush to the nation’s highest court.
“If someone steps down, I would highly recommend the President not name someone, not send a name up,” Biden, then the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, told the newspaper, noting how close it was to the November elections.
“If (Bush) did send someone up, I would ask the Senate to seriously consider not having a hearing on that nominee,” Biden had said.
The comments from the nearly 24-year-old interview came after Republicans seized on a clip Monday of Biden making similar comments on the Senate floor. In response, Biden pushed back and said the GOP was taking his comments out of context.
“In the same statement critics are pointing to today, I urged the Senate and White House to work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the court functions as the Founding Fathers intended,” Biden said in a Monday statement. “That remains my position today.”
Nevertheless, the comments gave new ammunition to the hardening GOP lines against anyone the President sends to Capitol Hill.
Republicans are worried that giving the new nominee an opportunity to present his or her case before a national audience will only give the White House momentum in confirming a nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia, tipping the balance of the court. But it could present bad optics, especially if the nominee is viewed as highly qualified and Republicans refuse to meet with him or her.
Emerging from a leadership meeting Monday evening, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, flatly said “no” when asked if the Senate should convene hearings, saying voters in November should render the judgment.
McConnell said on the floor Monday night that he and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley were unified against Obama sending anyone up. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a swing GOP vote and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, came out Monday against confirming anyone this year.
And some vulnerable Republicans were prepared to side with their party’s leadership as well, a heartening development for the Senate GOP.
“I think we should not confirm someone this year, I think we should let the people weigh in,” said Sen. Rob Portman, a vulnerable Republican up for reelection from the battleground state of Ohio. “The credibility of the court will be enhanced by that, too.”
The Senate Republican members of the committee plan to huddle Tuesday morning in McConnell’s office before a lunch with the full GOP Conference, where party leaders expect the party to be mostly unified.
But at the same time, two moderate Republicans — Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine — support holding hearings, giving Democrats confidence divisions are bound to grow in the GOP ranks once a nominee is proposed.
“We should take this process one step at a time as we always do under the regular order,” Collins told CNN. “I would expect that there would be a hearing on a nominee when it’s sent to us for our consideration… The hearing would help me make a better decision.”