Judiciary chairman: No decision on hearing for SCOTUS nominee
© Greg Nash

The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he hasn't made a decision about whether to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee.

“I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions. ... In other words, take it a step at a time," Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Feinstein calls for hold on Kavanaugh consideration Grassley releases letter detailing Kavanaugh sexual assault allegation MORE (R-Iowa)  told reporters, according to Radio Iowa.
 
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Grassley is weighing in as Republicans mostly fall in line behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Kavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday McConnell told Trump criticism of Kavanaugh accuser isn't helpful: report MORE's (R-Ky.) push to have the next president fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

A confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee would be a first step toward getting a nominee through the Senate, and it would likely be used by Democrats to pressure Republicans for a floor vote.

Grassley, who is up for reelection in November, said over the weekend that it's "standard practice" for the Senate to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during an election year. 

He doubled down on that Tuesday, adding that "this is a very serious position" that would best be filled by whoever wins the White House in November.

President Obama has pledged to nominate someone to fill Scalia's seat in "due time," and the White House has reportedly begun to draw up lists of potential choices.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are gearing up for the nomination fight, and have pointed to previous statements by top Republicans, including Grassley, in support of giving Supreme Court nominees confirmation hearings and votes. They also point out that several justices have been confirmed in election years, most recently Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and confirmed in 1988.

The battle over the nomination is being amplified by the presidential election, with the leading Republican candidates pressuring McConnell to stand firm against filling the court vacancy.

"I think it's up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it — it's called delay, delay, delay," Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE said during a debate Saturday night in Greenville, S.C.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzViral video shows O’Rourke air-drumming to the Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ after Cruz debate Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate NY Times, McCabe give Trump perfect cover to fire Rosenstein, Sessions MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary committee who is running second to Trump in polls of the White House race, has vowed to filibuster any Supreme Court nominee Obama puts forward. 

“Let the election decide," Cruz said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"We're advising that a lame-duck president in an election year is not going to be able to tip the balance of the Supreme Court."

The two Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGraham: There's a 'bureaucratic coup' taking place against Trump Fox News poll shows Dems with edge ahead of midterms Poll: Democrats in position to retake the House MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE (I-Vt.), have lashed back at Republicans.

"The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons," Clinton said in a statement on Saturday.  

Republicans are coming under intense pressure from conservative groups to not consider any Supreme Court nominee from Obama.

Scalia had given the conservative wing of the court a solid 5-4 majority. Should Obama fill the vacancy, it's likely that the court's balance will shift in favor of liberals.

After Scalia's death on Saturday, Grassley initially declined to discuss what his committee would do, telling the Des Moines Register that, "I wouldn’t make any prognostication on anything about the future because there’s so many balls in the air when those things are considered."

But as top Republicans such as McConnell called for the seat to remain vacant, Grassley issued a statement saying it was "standard practice" not to nominate and confirm nominees during an election year.

Grassley's office had to reissue his statement after incorrectly suggesting that the Senate hadn't confirmed a Supreme Court nominee during in an election year in the past 80 years. 

While many in the GOP have backed McConnell's position, at least one Senate Republican is raising concerns about the strategy.  

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) warned the party could "fall into the trap of being obstructionists” if it rejects any Obama nominee "sight unseen."

Democrats predict Republicans will eventually cave to pressure and allow Obama's nominee to be debated and voted on. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that Grassley's comments on Tuesday were an early indication that Republicans are moving "toward obeying the Constitution in holding hearings and a vote on the President’s Supreme Court nominee."

- This story was updated at 5:37 p.m.