Republicans resolutely slam door on Obama court nominee

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans on Tuesday slammed the door on any formal consideration of a nominee to the Supreme Court by President Obama.

The nominee will not receive a vote, a hearing or even meetings on Capitol Hill, top Republicans declared after returning to Washington for the first time since Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death.

“The overwhelming view of the Republican Conference in the Senate is this vacancy should not be filled by this lame-duck president,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters.

The extraordinary decision to reject the nominee sight unseen puts both parties in uncharted waters, and ensures that the Supreme Court — and the potential for it to be flipped to a liberal or conservative majority — will be a focal point in the presidential race.

Before Tuesday, there had been doubt as to whether top Senate Republicans would stand behind their initial position that Obama should not be allowed to fill Scalia’s seat.

Some Republicans openly questioned the strategy, warning the party could be tarred as obstructionist in the run-up to the elections.

But Republicans sought to extinguish those questions on Tuesday with a show of unity.

The GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the panel charged with vetting court nominees — appeared together after a morning meeting to announce that there would not be a confirmation hearing for Obama’s pick.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamHigh anxiety for GOP NYC mayor: Trump sounds like ‘a third-world dictator’ Five takeaways from final debate MORE (R-S.C.) said members of the panel reached a “consensus” that there should not be hearings or a vote.

McConnell held to that line as reporters peppered him with questions at an afternoon press conference.

“I have many faults, but getting off message is not one of them. This nomination will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the fall. I agree with the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that we not have hearings,” he said.

“In short, there will not be action taken.”

McConnell and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchGOP lawmakers ask IRS to explain M wasted on unusable email system GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Schumer says Pacific trade pact may have enough votes to pass the Senate MORE (R-Utah) added, separately, that they would not meet with Obama’s nominee. 

While McConnell said delaying the nominee represents the “overwhelming view of the Republican Conference,” it’s clear that some in his party have misgivings.

The strategy is particularly risky for Senate Republicans facing reelection races this year, many of them in states that tend to favor Democrats.

Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Iran sending ships to Yemeni coast after US ship fires at Houthi sites MORE (Ill.), one of the Senate’s most vulnerable GOP incumbents, has said the Senate should take up Obama’s nominee, calling it his “duty” to consider the choice. He stood by that position on Tuesday.

Similarly, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Collins5 takeaways from the Indiana Senate debate GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Juan Williams: Women will doom Trump MORE (R-Maine), who won reelection in 2014, said Obama’s nominee should at least get a hearing.

“My position remains that if the president sends up a nominee ... I believe that hearings are helpful,” she told reporters, though she declined to say whether she pushed that position during the private conference lunch.

Other Republican incumbents — as well as Sen. Roger WickerRoger WickerGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Senate Democrats aren't losing the money race after all To protect taxpayers, the Hyde Amendment must be permanent MORE (R-Miss.), who is fighting to retain the majority as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — voiced confidence that voters will be on their side.

GOP Sens. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonMcCain: Accepting election results is 'American way' Wisconsin poll: Clinton has 7-point lead on Trump Cruz: Voter fraud a challenge MORE (Wis.), John McCainJohn McCainHigh anxiety for GOP Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support GOP senator: I'd consider Clinton Supreme Court pick MORE (Ariz.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.), who are all up for reelection, on Tuesday said they support keeping the seat vacant until Obama’s successor is sworn in. 

“Not acting is acting,” Johnson said. 

The president has begun the vetting process to replace Scalia and is said to be a few weeks away from announcing his selection.

All signs point to Obama putting forward a nominee who has been easily confirmed by the Senate in the past. A selection in that mold would play into the hands of Senate Democrats, who are eager to turn the elections into a referendum on the court and what they say is an “obstructionist” Republican majority.

Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidPelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Latinos build a wall between Trump and White House in new ad The true (and incredible) story of Hill staffers on the industry payroll MORE (D-Nev.) got things rolling on Tuesday, saying that Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senator: I'd consider Clinton Supreme Court pick Senior Verizon exec believes hack will affect Yahoo deal GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (R-Iowa) will “go down in history as the most obstructionist Judiciary chair in the history of this country.”

Grassley is up for reelection this year, though he does not face a serious challenger.

With Republicans holding fast to a blockade of Obama’s nominee, both parties are preparing for a war of words that is likely to rewrite the rulebook for Supreme Court battles.

Seeking ammunition, Republicans have sought to use Vice President Biden’s own words against the White House.

Biden, in a 1992 floor speech in the Senate, argued that if there were to be a Supreme Court vacancy, it should not be filled until after that year’s elections. 

GOP lawmakers have dubbed the speech the “Biden rule,” and they cited it repeatedly Tuesday in their comments.

Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel New ad slams Bayh on Wall Street, lobbying links MORE (R-Ind.), who previously suggested that Obama’s nominee should get a hearing, said Tuesday that “many of us have decided to follow the wise council” of Biden and other top Democrats. 

The vice president issued a statement Monday evening arguing his comments are being taken out of context, and Democrats have made their own attempts to dig up past statements by Republicans that could aid their cause.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrPoll: Trump, Clinton in close race in North Carolina The Trail 2016: The grand finale Greens put M into NC Senate race MORE (R-N.C.), who is also up for reelection, said Republicans are “very” unified for the fight to come, adding that taking up a nominee would set a negative precedent. 

“Why would we see a precedent where future presidents would look at the last term of their presidency and say, ‘I could stack the court by getting members to retire and I load it up with 40-year-olds,’” he said.

Lydia Wheeler contributed.