WASHINGTON -- If a young Mitch McConnell were writing a letter to his older, grayer self about how to deal with Supreme Court nominees, he might tell him to avoid a "rush to judgment" and make sure there is "a heavy burden" by those who want to reject a president's nominee. At least, that's what Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) office envisions he would say.
Reid released a mock letter Tuesday addressed to McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, from McConnell. It pieces together some of his old quotes, ranging from 1970-2010, where he urges careful consideration and a fair amount of deference to a president's Supreme Court pick.
"Any attempt to deny confirmation on the basis of a philosophy, that is within the mainstream of American political and judicial thought, is an assault on this tripartite structure of government," reads the "letter" from McConnell, using a 1990 floor quote from the senator. "It is clear under our form of government that the advice and consent role of the Senate in judicial nominations should not be politicized."
McConnell has said he will block any Supreme Court nominee put forward by President Barack Obama to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this month. The issue is that a nominee will tip the court's balance away from the conservative majority it previously had. McConnell, and other Senate Republicans, want the next president to make the nomination -- hoping, of course, that a Republican will win in 2016.
There has been plenty of trading of old quotes during the current debate.
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart wasn't particularly impressed with the latest Reid offering.
"Those poor guys, they’ve been trying desperately to get some attention for that 45-year-old article," Stewart said, referring to a 1970 Kentucky Law Journal article by McConnell quoted in the letter. He also pointed that Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have also faced their own hypocrisy charges.
On Monday, Biden responded to a comment he made in 1992, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At that time, Biden said there should be a different standard for a Supreme Court nominee "that would occur in the full throes of an election year." He urged then-President George H.W. Bush to follow the example of "a majority of his predecessors" and put off naming a replacement.
Democrats pointed out that Biden made those remarks in June, which is closer to the election. And Biden himself responded Monday, saying it was inaccurate to say he opposed filling a Supreme Court vacancy during an election year.
"Indeed, as I conclude in the same statement critics are pointing to today, [I] urged the Senate and White House to work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended. That remains my position today," he said.
McConnell again called out Democrats for their own past statements Tuesday morning on the floor.
"The words of President Obama's own number two," McConnell said, quoting Biden's old remarks. "What else needs to be said?"
"He can read all the statements of the senior senator from New York and the vice president," Reid responded in his own floor remarks, "but never were any nominees held up."
Underscoring that Democrats plan to use GOP obstruction on the Supreme Court in the elections, Reid tied McConnell to GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
"If they follow the course set by the Republican leader, every one of them will be as responsible as Trump and Cruz for the debasement of the Republican Party," Reid said. "He [McConnell] will join them in what they've done to the party. It will be a new and a much worse Republican Party. Clearly Sen. McConnell's absolutely following that lead of extremists Trump and Cruz. There is no clearer response than the Republican leader's response to the Supreme Court vacancy."
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