- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2016

President Obama said Thursday that Republicans’ knee-jerk opposition to his presidency has led to their party’s “crack-up,” with businessman Donald Trump emerging as the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

Speaking at a news conference in the White House rose garden, Mr. Obama said Republican “elites” and conservative news outlets have been “feeding the Republican base” for the past seven years with the notion that any compromise with him is a betrayal.

He said the “absolutist” tone of the GOP is having consequences in this year’s presidential primary.

“What you’re seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all those efforts over a course of time creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive,” Mr. Obama said. “He’s just doing more of what has been done for the last 71/2 years.”

He cited conservatives continuously questioning “whether I’m an American, or whether I’m loyal” to the U.S.

Mr. Obama rejected the suggestion that his policies have led to a hardening of positions on the right, saying he won’t “validate some notion that the Republican crack-up that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken.”

“There are thoughtful conservatives who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party,” the president said. “I think it’s very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they’ve engaged in that allows the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire.”

But Mr. Obama also said there’s not much difference in the policy positions of Mr. Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the GOP field.

“It’s not as if there’s a massive difference between Mr. Trump’s position on immigration and Mr. Cruz’s position on immigration,” the president said. “Mr. Trump might just be more provocative in terms of how he says it.”

Referring to his battle with Senate Republicans over filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court, Mr. Obama said he hopes that “cooler heads will prevail” after he submits a nominee, likely next week.

“We’ll see how they operate once a nomination has been made,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m confident that, whoever I select among fair-minded people, will be viewed as an eminently qualified person.”

After that, the president said, “it will then be up to Senate Republicans to decide whether they want to follow the Constitution and abide by the rules of fair play that ultimately undergird our democracy and that ensure that the Supreme Court does not just become one more extension of our polarized politics.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa have said they won’t hold hearings on any nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month at age 79. They say voters should have a say by choosing a new president to pick a nominee for the high court.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Democrats are “feigning a lot of outrage” over the GOP’s position.

“We know they would do exactly the same if the shoe were on the other foot,” Mr. Cornyn said. “No president has filled a vacancy in an election year with divided government as we have today in well over a century.”

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