Obama starts work to pick Supreme Court justice amid political ‘bluster’
WASHINGTON – Reuters
AFP photoU.S. President Barack Obama has held preliminary discussions with his team about whom to nominate to the Supreme Court, the White House said on Feb. 15, while accusing Senate Republicans of “bluster” for saying they would not confirm his pick.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters administration officials had started talking with Senate offices about the process, which is shaping up to be an epic fight between Republicans and Democrats in a presidential election year.
Republicans, who control the Senate, say Obama should put off naming a replacement for conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died over the weekend, and leave it to the next president to decide. Democrats say it is the president’s responsibility and right to make the choice.
Americans will choose a new president in the Nov. 8 elections. Obama leaves office in January 2017.
Scalia’s death leaves the court evenly divided between liberal and conservative justices just as it is set to decide major cases on abortion, voting rights and immigration.
A growing number of Republican senators have already said they will not support an Obama nominee, including a dozen who are up for reelection in November. On Feb. 15, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio each announced their opposition. Both are up for reelection this year.
“This is not the first time that Republicans have come out with a lot of bluster, only to have reality ultimately sink in,” Schultz said, citing recent spats over raising the U.S. debt limit and approving a nuclear deal with Iran.
“At each pass, they took a hard line. They tried to play politics. But ultimately, they were not able to back up their threats,” Schultz said.
Republicans shrugged off the criticism, pointing to past political battles over Supreme Court nominees. In 2006, Democratic leaders in the Senate, as well as then-Senator Obama, tried but failed to block President George W. Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, noted Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Memories tend to be short around here sometimes,” he said.
Senate Republicans united behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in insisting that Obama’s successor fill the Supreme Court vacancy. Democrats looking to reclaim the Senate majority immediately accused them of putting politics ahead of their constitutional responsibility.
Vulnerable Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Ohio - all states that Obama won twice - echoed McConnell’s contention that the winner of the presidency in November’s election should choose the next jurist.
“I believe the best thing for the country is to trust the American people to weigh in on who should make a lifetime appointment that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations,” said Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, according to the Associated Press.