Looming Battle Over Scalia Successor Becomes Democrats' Rallying Cry for Senate Control

There are 34 seats up for grabs in the Senate in November.

ByABC News
February 16, 2016, 3:38 PM

— -- Democrats are using Republicans' plans to block confirmation of President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court as ammunition in their fight to win back the Senate this fall, raising the stakes of the political battle over the future of the Supreme Court.

In addition to the tumult of the 2016 presidential race, 34 Senate seats are up for re-election in November -- 24 of them currently held by Republicans and 10 by Democrats. The GOP currently holds a 54-46 majority in the Senate, which means Democrats need to gain five seats to win back the chamber.

Purple-state GOP senators such as Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are all running competitive races and have backed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan to have Obama's successor fill the vacancy on the court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

"We should honor Justice Scalia's legacy, and we should put off a decision on his replacement until the newly-elected president can make his or her choice," said Toomey, who noted that Obama has the authority to nominate someone for the Supreme Court.

Democrats seized on the comments and the opportunity to single out the senators.

"This is a disservice to their constituents and to the Constitution they swore an oath to uphold," a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a statement. "With this moment in mind, voters will turn out in November to elect people who will actually do their jobs."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in a Washington Post op-ed on the Republican efforts, said the Founding Fathers "must be rolling in their graves," while Reid's expected successor, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, also criticized the Republican position.

"The American people don't like this obstruction," Schumer said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." "When you go right off the bat and say, 'I don't care who he nominates, I am going to oppose him,' that's not going to fly."

For their part, Republicans have said they believe national security and the economy will ultimately be more important to voters in November than the Supreme Court, and that Democrats would also be held accountable for a protracted battle over the court.