Obama again prods Senate Republicans on Supreme Court nominee

Story highlights

  • President Barack Obama again prodded Senate Republicans to act on his Supreme Court nominee
  • GOP senators continued to refuse, saying the choice should be made by the next president

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama says he still hopes "cooler heads will prevail" and Senate Republicans will allow his eventual Supreme Court nominee to move forward.

In a news conference Thursday, Obama took another shot at GOP lawmakers who say he shouldn't nominate a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
"I find it ironic that people who are constantly citing the Constitution would suddenly read into the Constitution requirements, norms, procedures that are nowhere to be found in there. That's precisely the kind of interpretive approach that they have vehemently rejected and that they accuse liberals of engaging in all the time," Obama said.
"Well, you can't abandon your principles, if in fact these are your principles, simply for the sake of political expedience."
His comments came as Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee squared off Thursday over the controversial decision by GOP leaders not to consider any nominee so close to the presidential election. While the tense but mostly restrained session was probably cathartic for the senators, it clearly didn't make a dent in the partisan divide on the issue.
"Why all the outrage about a hearing? Why the demands for a hearing everyone knows would never result in a confirmation?" asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "It's because the other side is committed to using this process to score as many political points as possible."
Democrats pleaded with Republicans to change course. They cited polls suggesting the public is with them and argued it was unfair for Republicans to deny the President a nominee when he still has almost a year left in his term. And they pointed to history, saying it is unprecedented for the Senate not to act on a nominee, a White House official said.
"Since I have served in the Senate, the Judiciary Committee has always held hearing on Supreme Court nominations and always reported them to the full Senate for consideration," said Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving senator and top Democrat on the panel. "This has been our committee's practice regardless of who held the gavel and who was in the White House."
Judiciary Committee Democrats are scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon with senior administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Senior Adviser to the President Brian Deese, Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs Amy Rosenbaum, and White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, regarding the vacancy and to plan for a potential nomination.
Thursday, Obama suggested the Republicans will have a choice to make once a nominee is selected.
"So we'll see how they operate once a nomination has been made," he said. "I'm confident that whoever I select, among fair-minded people, will be viewed as an imminently qualified person, and 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. If and when that happens, our system's not going to work."
At the hearing, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama defended the Republican decision to let Obama's term expire before the next president replaces "the fabulous, great Justice Scalia," who was a hero to the right.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, blamed the Democrats for repeatedly over the years changing the rules for consideration of judicial nominees in order to meet their political needs of the moment.
"Every action has a reaction and in this case it is simple justice," Cornyn said. "They've made their beds so let's dispense with the outrage."
Graham said he supports blocking Obama's nominee and noted that "we're setting a precedent today" that a president can't get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed in the last year of his or her term. But Graham also said he would support a qualified nominee from Hillary Clinton as he has with Democratic presidents before.
Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, seized on comments by Cornyn earlier this week that a Supreme Court nominee selected this close to the presidential election would be treated like a "piñata."
"I hate to think that this process in the Senate Judiciary Committee is being likened to a piñata contest where we are blindly going to swing at whoever that nominee or piñata is going to be," Durbin said. "We have a responsibility to be fair."