By Susan Cornwell & David Morgan
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate will not confirm a Supreme Court nominee from President Barack Obama during his last year in office, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday.
In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell acknowledged Obama’s constitutional right to offer a replacement for late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this month. But he said even Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, had argued back in 1992 for postponing action on Supreme Court nominees during an election year.
“Presidents have a right to nominate, just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent. In this case, the Senate will withhold it,” McConnell said.
“The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter after the American people finish making in November the decision they’ve already started making today,” the Kentucky Republican added, referring to the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid quickly condemned McConnell’s attitude as “obstruction on steroids” that showed Republicans in the Senate taking their direction from Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
“Gone are the days of level-headedness and compromise,” the Nevada Democrat said.
Biden made the statements referenced by McConnell in 1992, when Biden was Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. Biden has said he was speaking hypothetically, because there was no Supreme Court vacancy at the time.
Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, said Tuesday that Obama should nominate “the most qualified, the most confirmable, the most centrist candidate possible,” to help convince more Republicans that they should at least consider the nominee. He also noted that some Republicans, including Senator Mark Kirk, have already said the Senate should do so.
Coons said one “balanced,” and “capable,” candidate was Sri Srinivasan, a U.S. federal appeals court judge who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate three years ago. But Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said there was a series of other qualified candidates.
Scalia was one of the most conservative Supreme Court justices in American history, but “I do not think President Obama should seek to replace him with a comparably outspoken progressive,” Coons told reporters.
Coons also said fellow Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a former Judiciary Committee Chairman, had told him that in the past century, “every single Supreme Court nominee has received a vote or a hearing or both.”