President Obama scolded Republican senators on Tuesday for threatening not to hold a vote on anyone he nominates to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Obama ripped Republicans for suggesting the Scalia vacancy will not be filled until a new president takes office, arguing “that’s not how the system is supposed to work.”
“When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president is to nominate someone, the Senate is to consider that nomination and either they disapprove of that nominee or that nominee is elevated to the Supreme Court,” the president said. “Historically, this has not been viewed as a question, there is no unwritten law that says it can only be done on off years.
“I intend to do my job between now and Jan. 20, 2017,” Obama said. “I expect them to do their job as well.”
Republican leaders argue the stakes of the Supreme Court nomination are too high for the decision to be made during an election year because Scalia’s successor will determine the court’s direction. They also argue that voters would effectively have a say in who replaces Scalia if the confirmation is punted until 2017.
Obama and Democrats have responded that Obama remains president and that it would be a dereliction of duty for the Senate to not consider a nominee from him, because this would leave the court potentially deadlocked, with only eight justices for the year.
A 4-4 tie in such a situation would leave standing lower court decisions.
The president’s comments immediately added fuel to the fire over the court fight.
Some conservatives were quick to point out that then-Sen. Obama himself filibustered Samuel Alito’s nomination to the court in 2006. Justice Alito, who was nominated by then-President George W. Bush, was confirmed.
“The Senate has a constitutional role to play in this process, and it’s one that Obama, when he was a senator, used in a failed attempt to stall the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court,” Adam Brandon, CEO of the conservative group FreedomWorks, said in a statement. “My, how quickly we forget history.
“Republicans run the Senate, they control process, and President Obama needs to get over it.”
An exasperated Obama cast the nomination fight as a test of whether the Senate can function in today’s partisan climate.
“I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there,” he said.
The president repeatedly ripped the GOP-controlled upper chamber as obstructionist, noting that his judicial nominations to lower courts have routinely been stalled, “regardless of how qualified the person is.”
That’s a talking point sure to be repeated by Democratic leaders, who argue the chamber has been plagued by gridlock under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJuan Williams: Trump's 100 days wound GOP Judd Gregg: Trump gets his sea legs This week: Congress returns to government shutdown fight MORE (R-Ky.).
The argument is one that some Republicans are worried about. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Tuesday said his party risked being labeled as obstructionist.
In his comments Tuesday, Obama offered the first glimpse into the criteria he would use to choose a nominee.
“I am going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat, and any fair-minded person, even somebody who disagreed with my politics, would say would serve with honor and integrity on the court,” he said.
There has been speculation that Obama could choose a moderate, consensus candidate — an option that would leave him the best chance of confirmation while pressuring Republicans to hold a vote.
One name being floated is D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sri Srinivasan, who was confirmed by the Senate in 2013 by a vote of 97-0. An Indian immigrant, Srinivasan would be the first Hindu on the high court and has clerked for Republican judges.
But Obama provided no hints Tuesday about which names he is considering. Asked if his comments indicated he would choose a moderate, Obama shot back, “No.”
“I don’t know where you found that,” he said. “You shouldn’t assume anything about the qualifications of the nominee, other than they are going to be well-qualified.”
This story was updated at 8:17 p.m.