The war between Obama and the Republican Party over Scalia's Supreme Court replacement just went nuclear.
One day after a 1992 video clip emerged of vice president Joe Biden emerged when the then-senator from Delaware said the Senate should not consider a Supreme Court nominee by president George H.W. Bush during an election year, this afternoon Senate Republicans went "all in" on a Supreme Court gamble, in which they vowed to deny holding confirmation hearings for any nominee from President Obama.
LETTER: 'this Committee will not hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee' until 1/20/17 pic.twitter.com/rMKGkDOn58
— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) February 23, 2016
The unprecedented decision, made before the president has named a nominee, marks a new chapter in Washington’s war over judicial nominations according to The Hill. In a battle of superlatives, CNN adds that the "historic move outraged Democrats and injected Supreme Court politics into the center of an already tense battle for the White House."
"I don't know how many times we need to keep saying this: The Judiciary Committee has unanimously recommended to me that there be no hearing. I've said repeatedly and I'm now confident that my conference agrees that this decision ought to be made by the next president, whoever is elected," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.
He then added he would not likely meet with any nominee, a custom that high court nominees typically do before hearings. "I don't know the purpose of such a visit I would not be inclined to take it myself."
The decision to not hold hearings is a historic move from the Senate, which has regularly held confirmation hearings for nominees since hearings became routine practice in 1955, the Senate historian's office said Tuesday.
McConnell was not alone: Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said he also would not meet with a nominee. "I don't see the point in going through the motions, if we know what the outcome is going to be. I don't see the point in going through the motions and creating a misleading impression."
Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told reporters at an afternoon press conference that the Republicans on the Judiciary committee submitted a letter to the Republican leaders unanimously opposing any hearing for a nominee to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said that's the "consensus" view among Republicans on the committee and Cornyn 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 a meeting of top Republicans discussing how to handle the White House's promised nominee.
Graham went so far as telling CNN he would not even meet with any nominee, should he or she make courtesy calls on the Hill. As did Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican.
The stakes for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his conference are high. A Fox News poll released earlier this month found that registered voters want Obama and Senate leaders to "take action to fill the vacancy now" by a margin of 62% to 34%. A Pew Research Center poll released Monday found a majority of Americans (56%) say the Senate should hold hearings and vote on Obama's choice to fill the vacancy, with 38% saying they should not hold hearings until the next president takes office.
“His vulnerable people are not going to get off the hook,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist. “The public is demanding [action], huge groups are demanding it. We’ve seen data that the millennials care more about the Supreme Court than anybody else.”
Nonetheless, in a sharply worded statement on the Senate floor earlier Tuesday, McConnell bluntly warned the White House that the GOP-controlled Senate would not act on anyone he chooses to sit on the high court.
As The Hill adds, the fierce debate could also cause a breakdown in bipartisan relations, threatening legislation on the agenda for the rest of this year.
The biggest consequence may be the precedent it sets for future nominees to the nation’s highest court, however, in an era when parties have begun angling for the presidency earlier and earlier. If Republicans win the White House, Democrats are more likely to retaliate with filibusters to block judicial nominees.
In the short term, their position will give Democrats a political cudgel to pummel vulnerable incumbents facing reelection.
But McConnell sees it as a smart political bet. By “ripping the Band-Aid off,” in the words of one senior GOP aide, he is hoping to limit the political pain to a span of weeks instead of letting Democrats milk the issue for months.
Republicans know they’re not going to confirm Obama’s nominee to replace legendary conservative jurist Antonin Scalia. A liberal successor would dramatically change the ideological balance of the court.
Some see the move as strategically prudent: holding hearings this spring would allow the Obama administration and Democrats to shift the focus to the personal story of the nominee and away from the principle that a president should not make the pick in an election year. Democrats could stretch out stories about GOP obstruction for the rest of the year. Without Senate action, it will be tougher to fuel media interest.
“It’s a smart gamble. They elect him leader to make these kinds of decisions,” said the senior aide. “We were in the middle of a recess, everyone was scattered, and he acted rightly and decisively. Everyone has rallied around him.”
Others are not convinced and have warned that it would be a mistake to shut down Obama’s pick without a fair review. “It’s common sense to have hearings and then an up-or-down vote and say why you’re opposing a person,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) in an interview. “To just say no [and have] no hearings, no vote, I think that puts us on the defensive. It looks like we’re afraid of something.”
One of the chamber’s most vulnerable Republicans, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), wrote in an op-ed Monday that he and his colleagues have “a duty” to review and vote on the nominee.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, initially warned that his party could “fall into the trap of obstructionists” if it rejects the nominee “sight unseen.”
On thing is certain, the Democrats are outraged and unleashed sharp criticism contending 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.
Obama jabbed at Senate Republicans, tweeting Tuesday evening for Americans to tell the majority party in the Senate to "#DoYourJob."
"Refusing to even consider the President's Supreme Court nominee is unprecedented," he tweeted.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 23, 2016
But best of all, even Trump is somehow now involved.
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."
We eagerly look forward to Trump's retort. And while we do, one thing is certain: if the Fed had harbored any hopes that some consensus over a fiscal policy stimulus would emerge in Congress and pick up the baton from money printing, it will be sorely disappointed.