White House Blasts GOP Over Calls to Block Clinton Supreme Court Picks

Sen. Ted Cruz contends court has operated with fewer justices in past

Arizona Sen. John McCain (left) and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have spoken of the possibility of blocking Hillary Clinton's potential Supreme Court nominees if she becomes president. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Arizona Sen. John McCain (left) and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have spoken of the possibility of blocking Hillary Clinton's potential Supreme Court nominees if she becomes president. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 27, 2016 at 2:15pm

The White House on Thursday slammed three Senate Republicans for saying their party should refuse to take up any Supreme Court nominees submitted by Hillary Clinton if she becomes president.

At various points during the 2016 campaign, GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and John McCain of Arizona have made such declarations.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that those calls threaten “the same kind of dysfunction that has infected Washington for the last six years.”

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Senate Republicans since March have been blocking Judge Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, refusing to give President Barack Obama’s pick even a confirmation hearing, much less a vote on the floor. The party, however, appears divided about how to proceed.

The three GOP senators are worried that Clinton could have the chance to nominate as many as four liberal justices in her tenure should she defeat Republican rival Donald Trump on Nov. 8. They want their party, should they retain control of the chamber, to use the Garland playbook again.

“There will be plenty of time for debate on that issue. … There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer [than nine] justices,” Cruz said this week. “I would note, just recently, that Justice [Stephen] Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

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McCain several weeks earlier delivered a “promise” to a Philadelphia radio station that Senate Republicans would remain “united” against any Clinton high court nominee.

And during an Oct. 12 debate in Utah with his Democratic opponent, Lee described his opposition to Garland and any potential Clinton nominee by saying Democratic justices “vote in lockstep,” but “Republicans have been all over the map, all over the spectrum.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid warned Wednesday in a fundraising email that the situation would create a “constitutional crisis.”

The Nevada Democrat made a plea via the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy group, for its members to “make an emergency donation” to assist Democratic Senate candidates gain control of the chamber, which would help the party outflank the GOP on Supreme Court nominees.

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Senate Judiciary ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont said in a statement Thursday that if Republicans retain control of the Senate and block Clinton’s nominees, it would amount to a “piecemeal evisceration of the Constitution.”

Simply calling for the blockade was “alarming,” Leahy said, adding that Cruz, Lee and McCain “are proving that they have no intention of doing their jobs and that their blockade of judicial nominees is purely driven by politics.”

Earnest expressed similar sentiments from the White House briefing room podium.

Obama’s top spokesman accused some Republican senators with planning to “throw sand in the gears” purely because “they think it advances their own personal political interests” and due to a “selfish desire” to improve their standings with conservatives.

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For his part, Leahy, who could become Judiciary chairman in the next Congress, urged “reasonable Republicans” to “repudiate these calls for wholesale and enduring obstruction.”

To that end, Arizona’s other GOP senator, Jeff Flake, says the Senate should take up Garland’s nomination during the upcoming lame-duck session after the elections. Flake has said he has discussed a permanent blockade with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, he said, did not seem inclined to carry out the trio’s calls.

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.