WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday accused Senate Republicans of politicizing the Supreme Court nomination process, dismissing the various arguments against even considering a nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia as grasping at "reeds."
Speaking to reporters following his bilateral meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Obama warned that if Republicans make good on their threat to neither hold hearings nor a vote on his upcoming nominee, they will end up of doing significant harm to the nation’s judicial system.
“If in fact the Republicans in the Senate take a posture that defies the Constitution, defies logic, is not supported by tradition simply because of politics, then invariably what you’re going to see is a further deterioration in the ability of any president make any judicial nomination," Obama said. "And appointments to the Supreme Court as well as the federal bench suddenly become a complete extension of our polarized politics."
“And at that point, not only are we going to see more and more vacancies and the court systems breakdown, but the credibility of the court itself is diminished because it’s seen as an extension of our politics," he added. "This is a Republican judge, or this is a Democratic judge, rather than this is a Supreme Court Justice who's supposed to be standing above the day to day politics."
Obama’s comments come on the heels of a decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to not hold hearings on a replacement for Scalia. Republicans have even gone so far as to say they will not even meet with whomever Obama nominates — a remarkable break with tradition.
While Obama said he is sympathetic to the political pressures Republicans in the Senate find themselves under from conservatives, he insisted they cannot simply not take up a nominee.
“I recognize that the politics are hard for them. Because the easier thing to do is to give in to the most extreme voices in their party and stand pat, and do nothing," he said. "But that’s not our job. Our job is to fulfill our constitutional duties."
Obama also rejected a number of the arguments Republicans have used to argue against taking up a nomination, insisting that there is no tradition of not considering Supreme Court nominees during an election year, while dismissing similar arguments Democrats have made during the last year of Republican administrations.
“First of all, we know senators say stuff all the time. Second of all, these were comments where there was no actual nomination. That’s not the same. It has no application to the actual situation that we have right now,” he said.
Obama also made clear that he won’t back down from a fight with McConnell and other Republicans, and warned he will take the issue to the American people.
“The American people are gonna have the ability to gauge whether the person I nominate is well within the mainstream, is a good jurist, is somebody who’s worthy of sitting on the Supreme Court. And I think it will be very difficult for Mr. McConnell to explain if the public concludes that this person is very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons," Obama said. "We’ll see what happens."
John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
Contact John Stanton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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