Politics

Democrats Play 'Trump Card' Over Court Standoff

But GOP continues to hold firm against filling Supreme Court vacancy

Donald Trump's position as the presumptive GOP nominee has spurred a new push by Democrats for confirmation hearings for the president's Supreme Court nominee. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats wasted no time connecting Donald Trump to the standoff over the Supreme Court vacancy, but leading Republicans said Monday they are not budging from their belief that the appointment should wait for a new president.  

With a new poll  showing that more than half of Americans don't trust the presumptive GOP nominee to choose the next justice, Democrats and advocacy groups are renewing their push for a hearing for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland .  

The White House announced that Garland will submit a questionnaire Tuesday to the Judiciary Committee detailing "an exhaustive picture of Judge Garland’s distinguished career and impeccable credentials." The judge will also meet with six senators — five Democrats and a Republican — this week.  

[ Related: Obama Taps Merrick Garland for Supreme Court ]  

And given Trump's poll numbers and unpopularity among some Republicans, at least one conservative blogger has suggested that the GOP should accept the relatively moderate Garland, 63, who is chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  

"Garland is not a great choice, but he is not a terrible one, either," wrote Leon H. Wolf, managing editor of RedState.com in a post last week. "And more than anything, he is old (for a modern Supreme Court appointment) and will be up for replacement in probably 10 years instead of 20 or 30."  

If GOP senators are considering that advice, they're not saying so. A majority of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who will decide whether Garland receives a hearing and a vote, said they had not changed their minds.  

"There's no problem with Trump appointing people to the Supreme Court," Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa told the Associated Press .  

But those GOP senators who have been among the most vocal critics of Trump, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah, declined to comment.  

"I think most Republicans will roll the dice and assume that it would be a more conservative pick if it were Trump," Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has also criticized Trump, said Monday. Asked if he personally would "roll the dice," Flake responded, "I'd like to hear some more from Donald Trump about the Supreme Court and the type of justices he'd appoint."  

[Related: Meeting with Merrick] Democrats, after weeks of scolding Republicans for shirking their constitutional duties by not considering a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, have found another piece of ammunition in the form of the GOP's bombastic presumptive nominee.

"[Republicans] are scrambling to get behind this hate-spewing nominee," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Monday. "There is no better example of Republicans marching in lockstep with Trump than the Supreme Court vacancy. The Republican National Committee is trying to bring their party together by promising this dangerous man will appoint justices to the Supreme Court."

[ Related: The Full Court Press for Merrick Garland ]

Also on Monday, Democrats touted a new poll that showed only 38 percent of voters trust Trump to nominate a Supreme Court justice. The survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling conducted on behalf of the liberal group, Americans United for Change.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who offered a lukewarm endorsement of Trump, has not changed his mind on the Supreme Court. "Republicans continue to believe that the American people should have a voice in this decision and the next president should make the nomination," McConnell spokesman, Don Stewart, said in a statement on Thursday.  

[Related: Supreme Court Pick Resumes Personal Push in Senate ]  

It does not appear that former presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz's position has changed either, despite calling Trump a "pathological liar ." In response to an inquiry about Cruz's position on the Supreme Court vacancy now that Trump is the presumptive nominee, the Texas Republican's office referred to a Wall Street Journal op-ed from March , where the senator argued that the next president should fill the vacancy.  

Despite no signs of relenting among Republican senators, those pushing for the Senate to consider Garland believe Trump's impending nomination gives them an edge, especially when targeting vulnerable Senate Republicans in races this fall.  

"I think there’s no doubt that it’s affecting the Supreme Court campaign," said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, which is part of a coalition of groups supporting confirmation hearings for Garland. "It calls 'BS' to [Republicans'] entire strategy from the beginning."  

"You’re talking about giving the appointment to somebody who said, 'Ban all Muslims,'” Woodhouse later said, referring to Trump's proposal to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.  

Trump's status will not likely change the Supreme Court strategy on the right, according to the Judicial Crisis Network's chief counsel and policy director Carrie Severino.  

"The overarching principle of letting people decide is the same regardless of who the Republican nominee is,” said Severino, whose group has been working to label Garland as a liberal activist judge.  

But Severino did acknowledge that there might be an additional effort to highlight Garland's record, and counteract those who argue that Garland is a moderate judge, and therefore should be confirmed.  

Severino discounted Wolf's blog post, which said that with Trump as the nominee, Republicans have "no chance" of winning the White House, and should therefore confirm Garland rather than risk Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton appointing a more liberal judge later.  

She contended that the Red State position was isolated, pointing out that the the blog's founder Erick Erickson wrote a blog post the same day arguing that Republicans should resist calls to confirm Garland.  

"If Republicans confirm Merrick Garland, in addition to further alienating the Republican base, they risk taking away keep (sic) arguments that can persuade independent voters to go with a Republican Senate," Erickson argued.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

Contact Bowman at  bridgetbowman@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at @bridgetbhc .

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