Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden urged Senate Republicans not to vote on any candidate nominated to the Supreme Court as the November election approaches, calling his rival Donald Trump’s plan an “exercise of raw political power.”
Biden was speaking on Sunday, the day that a second Senate Republican voiced objections to Trump’s plan for a quick vote on a replacement to liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday. Such an appointment by the president, if approved by the Senate, would cement a 6-3 conservative majority that could influence American law and life for decades.
“Voters of this country should be heard … they’re the ones who this Constitution envisions should decide who has the power to make this appointment,” Biden said in Philadelphia. “To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise of raw political power.”
Biden said that if he wins the Nov. 3 election, he should have the chance to nominate the next Supreme Court justice.
The former vice president rejected the idea of releasing the names of potential nominees, saying that doing so, as Trump did, could improperly influence those candidates’ decisions in their current court roles as well as subject them to “unrelenting political attacks.”
He reiterated his pledge to nominate an African-American woman to the court, which would be a historic first, if he has the opportunity.
Earlier on Sunday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she did not support Trump’s plan to move fast on filling the seat, becoming the second of the 53 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber to object publicly following Ginsburg’s death.
Senator Lamar Alexander, another moderate Republican, issued a statement saying he did not object to a vote.
Trump’s plan drew immediate criticism from Democrats, who noted that in 2016 Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on a Democratic appointee on the grounds that the vacancy should be filled by the next president.
“I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Scalia,” Murkowski said in a statement. “We are now even closer to the 2020 election – less than two months out – and I believe the same standard must apply.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine voiced similar concerns on Saturday. Collins is locked in a tight re-election battle, while Murkowski’s current term extends two more years.
A majority of Americans, some 62% including many Republicans, told a Reuters/Ipsos poll that they thought the winner of the November election should get to nominate a justice to fill the vacancy.
Justice Antonin Scalia, a close friend of Ginsburg’s, died in February 2016, but McConnell blocked a vote on Democratic President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.
Trump said on Saturday he would make his nomination this week and named Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible candidates to fill the vacancy created by Ginsburg, a revered figure among liberals.
The passing of Ginsburg upended the November election campaigns, energizing both Trump’s conservative base – eager to see the court overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide – and presenting new complications in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
“I will be putting forth a nominee next week. It will be a woman,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where supporters chanted: “Fill that seat.” “I think it should be a woman because I actually like women much more than men.”
Trump and McConnell have time to make the nomination and schedule a vote. While elections are on Nov. 3, a new Congress will not be sworn in until Jan. 3, with the winner of the presidential contest inaugurated on Jan. 20.
‘LUST FOR POWER’
Republican Senator John Barrasso on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday brushed off Democratic complaints about the nomination process.
“Let’s be very clear – if the shoe were on the other foot and the Democrats had the White House and the Senate, they would right now be trying to confirm another member of the Supreme Court,” Barrasso said.
Democrat Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in the 2016 election, on the same program called that view “indefensible.”
“What’s happening in our country is incredibly dangerous,” said Clinton, a former secretary of state whose husband, Bill Clinton, nominated Ginsburg to the court in 1993. “Our institutions are being basically undermined by the lust for power.”
Trump has already appointed two justices: Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed after a heated confirmation process in which he angrily denied accusations by a California university professor, Christine Blasey Ford, that he had sexually assaulted her in 1982 when the two were high school students in Maryland.
“No one should be surprised that a Republican Senate majority would vote on a Republican president’s Supreme Court nomination, even during a presidential election year,” Alexander said in his statement. “The Constitution gives senators the power to do it.”
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Philadelphia and Susan Heavey in Washington; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung and Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Steve Orlofsky and Peter Cooney)