- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell flatly rejected the chance that the Senate will act on President Obama’s pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, saying Tuesday that Republicans are following the precedent set by Vice President Joseph R. Biden when he ran the process nearly 25 years ago.

All Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter saying they won’t even hold hearings on whomever Mr. Obama nominates. Mr. McConnell agreed, saying the job of replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia should be put off until after November’s election.

“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,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I agree with the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that we not have hearings. In short, there will not be action taken.”

Leading Democrats predicted Mr. McConnell will have to reverse himself in the face of public opinion, saying voters will demand a full court. As proof, they pointed to vulnerable GOP senators up for re-election this year, such as Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who has called for hearings on an Obama nominee.

“He hasn’t seen the pressure that’s going to build,” said Sen. Harry Reid, the Democrats’ floor leader, of Mr. McConnell.

Yet Republicans are wielding a new, potent weapon — a 1992 speech in which then-Sen. Biden of Delaware said it was “not fair” to let a lame-duck president make the weighty decision of appointing a new justice.

Mr. Biden said once the “political season” had started presidents should back down and wait until after the election. In fact, he said then-President George H.W. Bush shouldn’t even bother to nominate anyone, much less have the Senate approve the pick — exactly the stance Republicans are now taking toward Mr. Obama.

The White House tried to explain away the comments Tuesday, saying the loquacious Mr. Biden had many other things to say about judicial confirmations in the 1992 speech.

“We can spend a lot of time throwing quotes back and forth,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Mr. Earnest said there never ended up being a vacancy in 1992, so Mr. Biden’s stance was never tested. And the spokesman said Mr. Biden suggested in 1992 that if Mr. Bush consulted with Congress about the Supreme Court, his nominee might get consideration.

“If the president consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates — moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support, as did Justices [Anthony] Kennedy and [David] Souter,” Mr. Biden said at the time, pointing to justices whose confirmation process he oversaw.

Sen. Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat who has Mr. Biden’s old Senate seat, said Mr. Biden helped approve lower-court nominees in election years.

“Regardless of the debate over what was said, I point towards what he did,” said Mr. Coons.

Mr. Coons said Mr. Obama could help his own case by nominating a balanced, centrist nominee that senators could rally behind. He said it would be a mistake to press for a liberal firebrand who serves as a mirror image of Scalia, the outspoken conservative.

Early polling in the immediate wake of Scalia’s death showed the country split on whether Mr. Obama should force a nomination fight. But the polls have since shifted in Democrats’ direction, with a clear majority saying Mr. Obama should nominate someone, and the Senate should vote on the pick.

But Republicans said it doesn’t matter whom the president chooses — he or she won’t make it very far.

“I don’t see the point of going through the motions, if we know what the outcome is going to be,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

Meanwhile, an Obama aide told the Des Moines Register that Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, hasn’t responded to a White House invitation to attend an Oval Office consultation with Mr. Obama.

“Early this week, we extended an invitation to Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member [Patrick] Leahy [Vermont Democrat] to join President Obama in the Oval Office for a consultative meeting of filling the Supreme Court vacancy,” a senior White House official said. “We have not heard back from Chairman Grassley.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Grassley said the invitation is “under consideration.”

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