The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have officially declared they will not hold a hearing on anyone President Obama nominates for the Supreme Court.
In a letter today, signed by all 11 Republicans on the 20-member committee, the members tell their Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, they will “not hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until after our next president is sworn in on January 20, 2017.”
"It's not about the personality," a committee member and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters today. "It's about the principle."
Going a step further, McConnell said he is not inclined to even meet with Obama's pick. "This decision ought to be made by the next president," McConnell said.
The Judiciary Committee, which also has nine Democrats, conducts hearings before the Senate votes on confirmation of the president's nominee for the court.
The White House responded at a briefing today, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying he “absolutely” believes hearings could still happen on whoever the president nominates, despite the GOP opposition.
“While Senator McConnell may claim some unanimity of opinions on the Judiciary Committee, he cannot claim unanimity of opinion when it comes to Republicans in the United States Senate,” Earnest said before citing statements from Republican senators who said they would like the nominee to have a hearing.
“The fact is we've seen unambiguous statements from people like Senator [Mark] Kirk and Senator [Susan] Collins that they believe that the president’s nominee should get a fair hearing and a timely up-or-down vote,” he said. “I certainly value their opinion. I think Senator McConnell does too, but I think the opinion that we all value the most is what’s required by the United States Constitution.”
The vacancy left at the Supreme Court following Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death almost immediately set off a political firestorm. The decision not to allow a hearing for the nominee, which Obama has yet to make, has been considered a politically risky move for Republicans hoping to hold on to their Senate majority.
McConnell refused to speculate about the political risk of the move, saying only that he wasn't going to get "off message."
Senate Republican leadership continues to underscore the precedent for their opposition to Obama's pick, noting Joe Biden shared this view when he was on the committee in 1992.
But the White House said that they do want Republicans to act as Biden did in 1992. “When you consider that he [Biden] presided over the last time that the Senate voted to confirm a Supreme Court nominee in an election year, that was a nominee that was put forward by a Republican president and Joe Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and ensured that Justice [Anthony] Kennedy got both a fair hearing and a timely yes-or-no vote. That’s what we’re asking the Senate to do.”
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, accused Senate Republicans of following the lead of GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
“Make no mistake, Senator McConnell is absolutely following the lead of extremists Trump and Cruz. There is no clearer example of this than the Republican leader’s response to the recent Supreme Court vacancy,” he said. “Republicans should think long and hard about this simple fact: If they follow the course set out by the Republican leader, every one of them will be as responsible as Trump and Cruz for the debasement of their own Republican Party.”