Obama: GOP can’t refuse vote on Scalia successor

Darlene Superville
Associated Press

Rancho Mirage, Calif. — President Barack Obama declared Tuesday that Republicans have no constitutional grounds to refuse to vote on a Supreme Court nominee, and he challenged his political foes in the Senate to rise above the “venom and rancor” that has paralyzed judicial nominations.

As Obama cast the dispute over filling the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia as a test of whether the Senate could function, there were early signs that Republican resistance could be eroding. Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley suggested he might be open to considering Obama’s yet-to-be named nominee, an indication his party may be sensitive to Democrats’ escalating charges of unchecked obstructionism.

“I intend to do my job between now and Jan. 20 of 2017,” Obama told reporters at a news conference. He said of the nation’s senators: “I expect them to do their job as well.”

Since Scalia’s unexpected death at a Texas ranch on Saturday, White House lawyers and advisers have been scrambling to refine and vet a list of potential replacements, while also devising a strategy to push a candidate through the Republican-led Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he doesn’t think Obama should be putting a candidate forward. The Kentucky senator, as well as several Republicans up for re-election this year, say Obama should leave the choice up to the next president. The November election, they argue, will give voters a chance to weigh in on the direction of the court.

Obama dismissed that notion, insisting he will put forward a replacement and believes the Senate will have “plenty of time” to give the nominee a fair hearing and a vote. Democrats say Obama has every right and a constitutional duty to fill vacancies on the court until he leaves office next January.

Obama conceded the dispute reflects years of escalating partisan hostilities over judicial nominations and that Democrats’ hands are not bloodless. Years of bickering have left the public accustomed to a situation where “everything is blocked” — even when there’s no ideological or substantive disagreement, he said.

“This would be a good moment for us to rise above it,” he said.

The pace of judicial confirmation always slows in a presidential election year, as the party that does not control the White House holds out hope that its candidate will fill vacant judgeships rather than give lifetime tenure to the other party’s choices. In the past, lawmakers have sometimes informally agreed to stop holding hearings on lower court nominations during campaign season.

Obama argued Tuesday that “the Supreme Court’s different.”

“There’s no unwritten law that says that it can only be done in off years. That’s not in the constitutional text,” he said. “I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole serious of propositions that aren’t there. There’s more than enough time for the Senate to consider in a thoughtful way the record of a nominee that I present and to make a decision.”

McConnell has shown no signs of shifting his opposition, and several lawmakers facing heated elections have backed him up. But the party may still be searching for a strategy.

In an interview with home state reporters, Iowa Republican Grassley said he “would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decision.”

The White House has been looking for cracks in the Republicans opposition as it deliberates on a nominee. If Republicans indicate they may hold hearings, Obama would have greater reason to name a “consensus candidate,” a moderate nominee who would be at least somewhat difficult for Republicans to reject. If there’s virtually no chance of Republicans bending, Obama might go another route — picking a nominee who galvanizes support among the Democrats’ liberal base and fires up interest groups in the election year.

Scalia in repose

The body of Justice Antonin Scalia will lie in repose Friday at the Supreme Court, followed by a funeral service Saturday at the nation’s largest Catholic church.

Scalia’s casket will be on public view in the court’s Great Hall from 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Friday, court officials said. A private ceremony will take place at the court at 9:30 a.m.

The funeral mass Saturday will take place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It will be open to family and friends. Burial plans have not been released.

Obama: Trump won’t succeed me

Donald Trump “will not be president” despite his commanding lead in the Republican field, President Barack Obama flatly declared Tuesday, bluntly questioning Trump’s temperament while asserting that a restive electorate would ultimately make a “sensible choice.”

It was Obama’s most scathing assessment of the GOP nomination battle to date as he argued Trump’s views were the norm, not the exception, in the Republican Party, and that Trump had no business being given access to nuclear weapons or deciding how to prevent a banking crisis.