Senate Democrats are predicting Republicans will back down on their position not to consider the president's Supreme Court nominee this year, and a few Republicans appear to be breaking rank when it comes to whether a nominee deserves a hearing.
According to the Alaska Dispatch News , Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters that she believed President Barack Obama's pick should get a hearing. "That doesn’t necessarily mean that that ends up in a vote," Murkowski said. "The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether or not this individual, based on their record … should be named to the highest court in the land.”
About two dozen Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have insisted that the next president should fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, following Justice Antonin Scalia's death Feb. 13. But with senators spread across the country for a week-long recess, some of their messaging has been muddled.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, who agrees with McConnell, said this week that he has not made a decision on whether or not to hold a hearing. His comments came after a scathing Des Moines Register editorial that asserted the long-time senator's position was "all about politics." Grassley's comments, along those from other Republicans, are stoking Democratic predictions that Republicans will be forced to relent. But GOP leaders disagree.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on a Dallas radio show Wednesday, "We’re going to stand firm.”
“We’re not required to rubber stamp this for the president,” Cornyn said. He added that Grassley is "known as a rock. Nobody can roll Chuck Grassley. And I predict he will stand firm on this.”
The Republican response could depend, in part, on whom the president chooses to nominate. On Wednesday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., argued that the president should nominate a "mainstream" candidate , who can win bipartisan support. Democrats say that would put the onus on Republicans to determine whether they will block a nominee whom they might actually support.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., implied in a Wednesday statement that the president should choose a nominee who would be more centrist, and did not echo other GOP statements that the next president should offer a nominee.
“The chances of approving a new nominee are slim, but Nevadans should have a voice in the process," Heller said. "That’s why I encourage the President to use this opportunity to put the will of the people ahead of advancing a liberal agenda on the nation’s highest court."
During an appearance on PBS NewsHour Wednesday night, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, stood firm on his position that the next president should fill the vacancy on the high court . He also argued that the Senate should not hold a hearing on the nominee.
“If you’re not going to allow to conduct in this brouhaha year, where there’s all kinds of infighting and screaming and shouting, yeah I think any reason — there would not be any real good reason to have hearings,” Hatch said.
Hatch argued he did not want to see the high court further politicized. But, when asked whether that would be the case with a centrist nominee, Hatch responded, "Well who knows whether it will be centrist or not. We’ll have to see. The president might pick somebody that everybody can agree with. That’s another matter. I hope he does."
As the debate continues, many lawmakers are expected to return to Washington this week to attend Scalia's funeral. He will lie in state at the Supreme Court on Friday, with the funeral service on Saturday.
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