- The Washington Times - Monday, February 15, 2016

Nearly all of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans dug in Monday in favor of blocking a vote on any nominee of President Obama to replace late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, even as Democrats vowed to make it a flash point in the 2016 battle for control of the upper chamber.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and John McCain of Arizona said they owe it to the American people to delay the nomination process until voters elect Mr. Obama’s successor.

Their determination to deny Mr. Obama an opportunity to tilt the ideological balance of the Supreme Court will get cheers from the GOP base and blunt possible primary challenges. But the senators risked turning off voters on the margins who could decide a close race.

Democrats quickly accused Senate Republicans of dereliction of their constitutional duty to advise and consent on presidential nominations.

The battle over whether to give Mr. Obama’s pick a vote also injected into the Senate races hot-button issues from the high court’s docket, including gun rights, abortion and the president’s deportation amnesty.

“I believe that we should wait until after the next election and let the American people pick the next president, and we should consider who the next president of the United States nominates,” Mr. McCain said Monday on Mike Broomhead’s talk-radio show in Phoenix, Arizona.

SEE ALSO: Scalia’s death shakes contraception mandate, other high-profile court cases

A recent poll showed Mr. McCain in a dead heat against the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.

In New Hampshire, Mrs. Ayotte put out a statement declaring the confirmation process should wait because “we’re in the midst of a consequential presidential election year, and Americans deserve an opportunity to weigh in given the significant implications this nomination could have for the Supreme Court and our country for decades to come.”

She also faces a tough challenge from New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.

Similar arguments were made by Mr. Johnson, who is defending his seat in a rematch against Democrat Russ Feingold, and Mr. Burr, who is considered vulnerable in a state that backed Mr. Obama in 2008 but so far has not attracted a serious Democratic challenger.

Mr. Johnson said, “I strongly agree that the American people should decide the future direction of the Supreme Court by their votes for president and the majority party in the U.S. Senate.”

The other two Republicans facing the toughest re-election fights in closely-divided states, Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio, kept mum on the issue.

Republican have a tenuous four-seat majority in the Senate and must defend 24 of the 34 seats up for grabs in 2016. GOP incumbents in tough races must weigh the impact energizing the base by standing up to Mr. Obama against the potential damage of being labeled an obstructionist.

The damage in these battleground states could be magnified if Mr. Obama, as expected, nominates a member from key Democratic constituencies, such a person who is Hispanic, black or a woman.

Democrats called foul as soon as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, vowed Saturday to refuse confirmation until a new president arrives in the White House next year.

“The Constitution is clear: The President is empowered to nominate Supreme Court justices. This vacancy may not be convenient for a Republican majority that has already abandoned any intention of governing this election year, but they have a responsibility to our nation,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua.

She later added: “The most vulnerable GOP incumbents have fallen in line to support this unprecedented obstruction of the constitutional process. Senators Kelly Ayotte, Pat Toomey, Rob Portman, Ron Johnson, Roy Blunt, Richard Burr, John McCain and Rand Paul are putting party politics ahead of their most basic responsibility With this moment in mind, voters will turn out in November to elect people who will actually do their jobs.”

In Illinois, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democratic Senate candidate, quickly moved to put Mr. Kirk on the on defense.

“Mark Kirk hasn’t said yet whether he agrees with McConnell’s partisan obstinance,” the Duckworth campaign said in a blast email to circulate an online petition. “Join us in urging Kirk to immediately commit to giving President Obama’s eventual nominee a fair hearing.”

Rep. Patrick Murphy, Florida Democrat and a U.S. Senate hopeful, circulated an online petition to beef up his database and cited Mr. McConnell’s obstructionism as a compelling reason to help eject the chamber’s Republican majority.

“McConnell is choosing election year politicking over his constitutional duty. This is no surprise from a Republican Senate majority that has done almost nothing but obstruct for the last 2 years,” he wrote in the email.

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