Biden punches back on Supreme Court

Vice President Biden is punching back at Senate Republicans who are using him as an attack line in the battle over the Supreme Court. 

In a speech Thursday, the vice president sought to redefine the “Biden Rule” that Republicans have cited repeatedly based on a 1992 floor speech he gave as a senator from Delaware.

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At the time, Biden argued the upper chamber should delay consideration of a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee until after that year's elections.  

But Biden accused Republicans of “quoting selectively” from his speech, “completely neglecting to quote my unequivocal bottom line" that he would've been open to a hypothetical consensus nominee if the president consulted with the Senate.    

"So now I hear all this talk about the ‘Biden Rule,’” the vice president said at the Georgetown University Law Center. “It’s frankly ridiculous. There is no 'Biden Rule.' It doesn’t exist.”

He said there is “only one rule I ever followed on the Judiciary Committee, that was the Constitution’s clear rule of advice and consent.”

Biden defended his record during his years as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, painting Republicans’ Supreme Court blockade as a desperate gambit that “could lead to a genuine constitutional crisis.”

During his time as chairman or ranking member of the Judiciary panel, Biden said, all eight high court nominees received a hearing and a floor vote. 

“Every nominee, including Justice [Anthony] Kennedy — in an election year— got an up-or-down vote,” he said. “Not much of the time. Not most of the time. Every, single, solitary time.”

The speech represents Biden’s big entrance into the political battle over President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. 

It was highest-profile attempt yet to bury the controversy surrounding his 1992 remarks, which have dogged Obama’s efforts to convince Republicans to take up his Supreme Court nominee.  

The White House traditionally turns to Biden when pushing its agenda in the Senate, where he served nearly four decades and maintains relationships on both sides of the aisle. 

But Republicans have repeatedly invoked Biden’s words to explain their refusal to hold hearings or votes on Garland, while accusing Democrats of hypocrisy.  

“Once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over,” Biden said in that speech.  

Republicans on Thursday noted that Biden helped derail the 1987 Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork, who was eventually succeeded by Kennedy. 

"Double standard plain and clear. Case of do what I say not what I said I would do," tweeted Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Senate to vote on two gun bills Senate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling MORE (Texas), the no. 2 Senate Republican.  

“No matter how hard the White House tries to rewrite history, it can’t change ... Biden’s remarks," Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyDozens of senators push EPA for higher ethanol mandate Civil liberties group mobilizes against surveillance amendment Brother may I? Congress must reform senseless drug regulation MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

"President Obama: first President to have filibustered #SCOTUS nominee. VP Biden: refused to hold hearings for over 50 Bush nominees. #Rich," the office of Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchMedicare trust fund running out of money fast Long past time to fix evidence-sharing across borders Overnight Tech: Facebook's Sandberg comes to Washington | Senate faces new surveillance fight | Warren enters privacy debate MORE (R-Utah), a senior member of the panel, tweeted.

Biden has previously used a New York Time op-ed to point to his "bottom line" about consensus nominees to the court. But he clearly determined it was necessary to push his case further.

The vice president used his Thursday speech to go on the offensive against Republicans in the Senate.  

He issued dire warnings of what would happen if Garland were not confirmed.  

"The longer this high court vacancy remains unfilled, the more serious the problem we'll face," Biden said. "A problem compounded by turbulence, confusion, and uncertainty, about our safety, our security, our liberty, our privacy, the future of our children and grandchildren. In times like these we need more than ever, a fully functioning court."

Leaving a seat vacant creates the possibility of a 4-4 tie in consequential cases, which leaves a lower court’s decision in place.

That could result in a “patchwork Constitution” where laws are unevenly applied throughout the country, Biden said, and in turn “deepen the gulf between the haves and have-nots.”  

“The meaning and extent of your federal constitutional rights — freedom of speech, freedom to follow the teachings of your faith or to determine what constitutes teaching of your faith, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure — all could depend on where you happen to live,” he said.

“I think most people in this country would call that unfair and unacceptable.”

The first deadlock since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia occurred this week in a real estate case. 

But the high court is expected to issue decisions on more significant cases this summer, including one on Obama’s executive actions on immigration and a challenge to a Texas law that resulted in the closure of many of the state’s abortion clinics. 

Republicans have argued that Biden’s warning rings hollow. 

They note the then-senator also said in 1992 the costs of having only eight justices on the court “are quite minor compared to the cost that a nominee, the president, the Senate, and the nation would have to pay for what would assuredly be a bitter fight.” 

But Biden said the stakes are even higher, calling the nomination battle a test of whether the U.S. government can still carry out its basic duties. 

“The world looks at this city right now as dysfunctional. And that’s a problem,” he said, adding the problem could grow “if it spreads beyond Congress.”

“The president has fully discharged his constitutional obligation,” Obama said. “Now, it's up to the Senate to do the same ... We owe it to the American people to consider his nomination and to give him an up or down vote.” 

Updated at 1:34 p.m.