Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have reached a consensus on President Obama’s promised Supreme Court nominee: no hearings, no votes.
Emerging from their first closed-door gathering since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Judiciary Committee Republicans told reporters that they were united behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call to block any action toward confirming the president’s nominee. As committee member Lindsey Graham put it, referencing Vice President Biden’s 1992 call not to hold hearings on a nominee during an election year, “We like Joe Biden on this. He was right.”
The panel’s chairman, Chuck Grassley, summed up his colleagues’ position in a letter to McConnell today:
Accordingly, given the particular circumstances under which this vacancy arises, we wish to inform you of our intention to exercise our constitutional authority, to withhold consent on any nominee to the Supreme Court submitted by this president to fill Justice Scalia’s vacancy. Because our decision is based on Constitutional principle and born out of a necessity to protect the will of the American people, this Committee will not hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until after our next President is sworn in on January 20, 2017.
The date is notable: Republicans, in declaring they won’t hold hearings on Obama’s nominee, have made clear they won’t do so during the president’s lame-duck period, either, even if Democrats take back the Senate in November.
Their decision is not altogether surprising: although Grassley at times appeared to leave open the possibility of hearings, the majority of his committee stood firmly opposed to the idea. In an interview with National Review last week, Senator Jeff Sessions said he would be “very surprised” if the committee ultimately decided to engage the process. By arriving at an official stance in advance of the president’s nomination, Republicans avoided the precariousness that would have come with waiting until after the issue had become personalized.
In senior committee member Orrin Hatch’s view, that’s the main reason to draw a line in the sand now. “To hold a hearing, to give any indication that we would consider” the nominee “just creates even more politics,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “The more you give in to the Democrats on this, the more they’ll demand that you have to take it to an up-or-down vote in committee.”
So how do Senate Democrats respond? As NR reported yesterday, many Republican lawmakers and aides are wondering whether Democrats will begin to employ obstructionist tactics on the floor, stalling legislative business and further compromising the appropriations process in the House. But there’s been no indication — thus far, at least — that Minority Leader Harry Reid will take that route. When asked about it last week at an event in Reno, Reid said, ‘There’s no reason to shut anything down; we’re not doing anything anyway.’”
Another question to consider: How will Republicans respond once Obama submits his pick? There have been whispers that the president could put forth a “centrist” nominee, someone who’s largely popular on both sides of the aisle. Doing so would advance Senate Democrats’ narrative that Republicans, in refusing to consider even the most “mainstream” of nominees, have yet again placed partisan politics over constitutional duty.
But don’t expect McConnell to budge. As he told reporters today, he “would not be inclined” to even meet with Obama’s nominee, whoever he or she may be. For Republicans, the decision is done. How the fallout takes shape, whether in vulnerable Republicans’ reelection bids in November or through Democrats’ retaliation on the Senate floor, remains to be seen.