Biden’s handling of Supreme Court vacancy has been 'clumsy at best': Sen. Collins

If Democrats all vote for the nominee, they would not need bipartisan support.

January 30, 2022, 4:06 PM

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said while she welcomes diversity on the Supreme Court, President Joe Biden's handling of replacing retiring Justice Stephen Breyer so far "has been clumsy at best."

"I would welcome the appointment of a Black female to the court," the Republican senator told ABC "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. "I believe that diversity benefits the Supreme Court. But the way that the president has handled this nomination has been clumsy at best."

Breyer announced his retirement from the high court on Wednesday, and President Joe Biden has pledged to replace him with a Black woman -- a promise he first made on the campaign trail. It's a decision Collins critiqued, telling Stephanopoulos that Biden's rhetoric as a presidential candidate "helped politicize the entire nomination process."

"It adds to the further perception that the court is a political institution like Congress when it is not supposed to be," Collins added. "So, I certainly am open to whomever he decides to nominate. My job as a senator is to evaluate the qualifications of that person under the advice and consent role."

Referencing the previous interview with Sen. Dick Durbin, Stephanopoulos asked: "You say that it's clumsy. But isn’t, as Senator Durbin pointed out, isn't it exactly what [President] Reagan did when he said he would appoint a woman to the Supreme Court? Isn't it exactly what President Trump did when he said he would appoint a woman to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?"

"Actually, this isn't exactly the same. I’ve looked at what was done in both cases. And what President Biden did was as a candidate, make this pledge. And that helped politicize the entire nomination process," Collins responded. "What President Reagan said is, as one of his Supreme Court justices, he would like to appoint a woman. And he appointed a highly qualified one in Sandra Day O'Connor."

On the issue of politicization, Stephanopoulos pressed: "Isn't this process politicized no matter what you do? I mean, look at what happened after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Barrett pushed through in record time, one of the reasons I suppose you voted against her."

"Actually, the reason I voted against Amy Coney Barrett was that her nomination and the vacancy occurred too close to the election, the presidential election," Collins said.

The senator went on to explain that because former President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 was blocked by Republicans amid an election year, a precedent was set not to appoint new justices during election years.

"I did not agree with that decision, but once that precedent was established and given how close the death of the Supreme Court justice was to when the appointment was made of Justice Barrett," she added. "I felt that it was -- should have been up to the next president to make the decision."

This time around, Biden is possibly eyeing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for a seat on the Supreme Court. She garnered bipartisan support last year for her federal court nomination. Collins was one of three Senate Republicans who approved her confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

When Stephanopoulos asked whether Collins would support Jackson, the senator said she is open-minded and willing to consider the sitting federal judge and any other potential appointees.

"I'll certainly give her every consideration. I have no idea since she was confirmed what ruling she's been involved in, what writing she has done and I have not met her personally," she said. "And that's why I really appreciated Chairman Durbin reaching out to me and offering to make the nominee available for an extensive interview and to provide me with whatever information I need to make a decision on whomever the nominee is."

Collins, who is known for her commitment to bipartisanship, was also asked about efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act since she is leading a bipartisan working group of 16 senators to do so.

"Do you share Senator Durbin's confidence that Electoral College reform -- the reform of the Electoral College Act can take place this year on a bipartisan basis?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"I certainly hope so. This is not a small matter. This 1887 law governs the counting and certification of the presidential vote. And we saw, on January 6th of 2021 how ambiguities, simple law, were exploited," Collins answered. "We need to prevent that from happening again."

As the law is currently written, it only takes a single House member paired with a senator to challenge any state's electoral vote count. The vice president's role in the procedure is also unclear. Trump and his allies tried to use this law to reject state's electors in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, which had no widespread voter fraud, on Jan. 6, 2021.

Suggested provisions included in the effort to reform the Electoral College are changing the vice president's role to become more ministerial and raising the total number of senators and House members required to challenge a state's count.

The decision to review the federal law comes after Republicans blocked a voting rights bill championed by Democrats.

As one of seven Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump in the wake of the insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol, Stephanopoulos asked Collins if she could support Trump if he decides to run again for president in 2024.

"Former President Trump is out on the campaign trail. He was out in Texas last night suggesting he may pardon those -- if he were elected in 2024 -- those who were part of the January 6th riots. Given that, can you imagine any circumstances where you could support his election in 2024?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"Well, we're a long ways from 2024. But let me say this, I do not think the president should have made -- that President Trump should have made that pledge to do pardons," Collins said. "We should let the judicial process proceed."

She then called Jan. 6, "a dark day in our history."

Stephanopoulos pressed again: "It was. And you voted to convict President Trump as well. Why can't you rule out supporting him in 2024?"

"Well, certainly it's not likely given the many other qualified candidates that we have that have expressed interest in running," Collins answered, dodging the question again. "So it's very unlikely."