- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2016

Vice President Joseph R. Biden visited Capitol Hill on Thursday to urge Republicans to cave to the Obama agenda, saying approving new Zika spending, passing tougher gun laws and confirming a new Supreme Court justice are “bigger than partisan politics.”

Testing the limits of his personal appeal to his former colleagues, Mr. Biden said the Republican refusal to vote on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the high court would set “a very dangerous precedent in the institution that I love.”

“Give him a vote,” said Mr. Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years.

Democrats and Republicans are jockeying for an edge on a large list of issues, with just a few weeks left in session this month. Congress is slated to be out most of October so members can campaign ahead of the November election.

Tops on the list is passing a stopgap bill that funds the government past Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, and resolving the Zika funding spat.

Yet both sides are also eyeing partisan priorities that will thrill their base. Democrats are filibustering the Zika money, insisting some of the funds flow to Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, House conservatives want a vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John G. Koskinen.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he and his GOP colleagues will hash out their strategy on the IRS next week, and will figure out their Zika stance Friday. But he drew a line on agreeing to money for the nation’s largest abortion provider.

“There’s no Planned Parenthood in this bill, and to put an earmark for Planned Parenthood is something we won’t do,” said Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

Senators reached a compromise earlier this year that called for $1.1 billion in Zika money — $800 million less than President Obama wanted — and added it all to the deficit. The House approved $622 million, and called for it to be paid for by shifting money so it didn’t add to the deficit.

The issue is proving tricky for some Republicans such as Rep. David W. Jolly, who is facing a tough re-election fight in Florida. He said the House should accept the Senate bill as part of this month’s short-term spending deal.

“The fact is, we’ve got to govern,” said Mr. Jolly, whose home state has recorded 56 cases of mosquito-borne Zika.

In the Senate, the most poisonous fight is over Judge Garland, whom Mr. Obama nominated to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

Republicans say the next president should fill the court, making the pick an election issue for voters.

“They understand that this nomination will affect the court for years to come,” said Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who controls whether Judge Garland gets a hearing. “For that reason, they want to have a voice in the matter. We will give them that voice.”

Republicans also say they’re following the path laid out by Mr. Biden himself, who, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1992, delivered a fiery speech insisting he wouldn’t advance any Supreme Court nominee put forth by President George H.W. Bush that year.

For now, the court is evenly divided, 4-4, along ideological lines, resulting in a series of deadlocked decisions.

Judge Garland would tilt the balance in liberals’ favor, though Senate Democrats insist he is a “consensus candidate” who would call balls and strikes fairly.

The direction of the court is a key issue for both parties this election cycle, particularly among Republicans, who say they are compelled to vote for Donald Trump, despite his strident positions, because his list of potential justices is preferable to whomever Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would choose.

Should Mrs. Clinton win, however, Senate Republicans could be tempted to approve Judge Garland in a lame-duck session instead of risking a more liberal nominee next year.

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