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Senate Republicans Refuse To Consider Obama Supreme Court Nominee


Now President Obama faces resistance in Congress to his plan to close Guantanamo, and he also faces resistance to a Supreme Court choice. Any nominee would be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and every member of that committee signed a letter pledging to hold no hearings whatsoever on any nominee no matter who the president might name. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Right before lunch on Tuesday, all 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee slipped into the majority leader's office. The meeting was quick, but that was all it took. They came out declaring they would not even pretend to consider a Supreme Court nominee this year. John Cornyn of Texas, who's on the committee, says it would just be disingenuous to do otherwise.

JOHN CORNYN: I don't see the point of going through the motions if we know what the outcome is going to be, and we are united on that. I don't see the point of going through the motions and creating a misleading impression that something else is going on here.

CHANG: And Republicans want to make very clear that what is going on is a complete and absolute refusal to open up the confirmation process this election year, which, for Orrin Hatch of Utah, means not even holding face-to-face meetings with the nominee, a usual courtesy.

ORRIN HATCH: It's not obstruction. This is saying that this is so important it should not be brought up in this messy time, and it ought to be brought up by the - for the next president whoever that may be. That could be a Democrat.

CHANG: Senate Republicans have been mining C-SPAN archives to show Democrats have espoused the same principles, like then-Sen. Joe Biden, who chaired the Judiciary Committee in 1992.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It would be our pragmatic conclusion that 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. That is what is fair to the nominee and essential to the process.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Fair to the nominee, essential to the process, a pragmatic conclusion, the words of President Obama's own number two, what else needs to be said?

CHANG: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his colleagues now embrace the so-called Biden rules. Democrats say Biden didn't make those statements when an actual Supreme Court vacancy was staring him in the face. But Republicans only seemed to get giddier watching the other side try to wriggle out of its words.


CHANG: There's a simple fact, McConnell says, Democrats refuse to admit.

MCCONNELL: We know what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot.

CHANG: And if Republicans are determined to block this year's nominee, they ask, why then waste the time on hearings? But, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York says hearings can change the outcome of this fight.

CHARLES SCHUMER: The hearings have a great wisdom to them. People who thought they might vote no change their minds and vote yes. Sometimes it's the other way. And if you look at the - in a very contentious world, the last four nominees got on the court with bipartisan support.

CHANG: Which captures exactly why Republicans have no incentive to hold any hearings now, why risk taking a tough vote and then facing the electorate, especially if you're in a tight race this year, like Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania?

Why not hold hearings? Why is this a smart move to not hold hearings?

PAT TOOMEY: I think the next president should make the decision about filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court. And you need to move back so that my elevator can go down. Thank you.

CHANG: The White House is expected to announce its nominee within a few weeks. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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