Leahy: If Senate Doesn’t Vote on SCOTUS Nominee, Dems Will Win Back Chamber

Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” while discussing President Barack Obama nominating a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia after his death on Saturday, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) predicted if the GOP leadership in the Senate didn’t allow a vote on that nominee, the Democratic Party would win back the U.S. Senate.

Partial transcript as follows:

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: The sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has huge implications, and it sent both parties scrambling. President Obama last night pledged to nominate a replacement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone. They’re bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy. And they’re about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life and making sure it continues to function as the beacon of justice that our founders envisioned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I’m joined now by the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Senator, thank you so much for joining me. I will just start with what the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, said last night. He laid down the gauntlet, saying the Senate will not confirm anybody until after the presidential election. Your thoughts.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Well, I think he’s making a terrible mistake. And he’s certainly ignoring the Constitution and ignoring responsibilities. President Obama is doing the same thing that President Reagan did. At the end of his term, he nominated a Supreme Court justice. The confirmation was in the last year of President Reagan’s term. The Democrats controlled the Senate. None of us intended to play politics with something as important as a Supreme Court nomination. And the Democratic-controlled Senate voted 97-0 in favor of President Reagan’s nominee in the last year of his presidency. The fact is, when you elect a president, you have to assume, if there’s Supreme Court nomin — vacancies, he is going to make the nomination.

BASH: But…

LEAHY: And the — it would be a sheer dereliction of duty for the Senate not to have a hearing, not to have a vote. You know, we have got…

BASH: But, Senator, I want to ask you about — about something called the Thurmond rule, which is an informal agreement in the Senate that the party not in the White House blocks all judicial nominees during a presidential campaign season.

(CROSSTALK) BASH: You subscribed to that when it was the opposite, so why is it different now?

LEAHY: Well, there is no such thing as a Thurmond rule. I used to tease the Republicans about it. But I will give you an example. For the last two years of President George W. Bush’s term, Democrats were in control of the Senate. By this time, we had confirmed two or three times as many judges of George Bush’s than the Republicans have of President Obama’s. They’re playing politics, the same way they did when they killed about 70 of President Clinton’s judges by their pocket veto. The fact of the matter is, a Supreme Court justice, let’s have a vote. Let’s have a debate. The Senate has more recesses scheduled, more holidays scheduled this year than I have ever seen in my time there.

BASH: Right, but…

LEAHY: We ought to go forward, have a debate.

BASH: You know that the Republicans are arguing it’s not about time spent in Washington. It’s about which president gets the chance to nominate the pick. You know, I have been covering you in the Senate for a very long time. And I just know from experience, as do you, where you sit on these issues depends on where you stand. And if there were a Republican in the White House, Democrats were in charge of the Senate right now, I bet you would be arguing to move forward on the Supreme Court nominee. Fair?

LEAHY: No. In fact, I was there when the Democrats were in charge of the Senate in the last year of President Reagan’s term, a member of the Judiciary Committee, and I urged that we go forward with President Reagan’s nomination. And we did. So, I mean, I’m pretty clear where I am. Now, Justice Scalia was a friend of mine. We disagreed on a lot of things. I had a lot of respect for him and his family. In fact, his youngest son and our youngest son used to play soccer in grade school on Saturday mornings. Justice Scalia, Nino — we would call him Nino — and I would stand there in our old clothes watching the kids playing and joking back and forth. So, I mean, this has to be a terrible blow to his family. Let’s not add to that blow by politicizing this. Let’s do exactly what President Obama, what Democrats did for President Reagan and have the vote.

BASH: Senator Leahy?

LEAHY: Yes, go ahead.

BASH: Do you think that — do you think that if Republicans continue down this road, that they say they’re not going to bring up whomever the nominee is for a vote, would you recommend to the president a recess appointment?

LEAHY: I don’t even think we’re there. I think the president — and I have talked to the White House last night — I think the president has to nominate somebody, nominate a qualified person, a highly qualified person.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: But would you rule — would you rule it out if things don’t change the way they are now?

LEAHY: Well, I don’t even think — I don’t even think we’re there. I think what we ought to do is nominate somebody. If the Republican leadership refuses to even hold a hearing, I think that is going to guarantee they lose control of the Senate, because I don’t think the American people will stand for that. They want us to do our job. They can see us doing recess after recess, time off all year long. Tell us to come back, cancel one of those recesses, come back and have the hearing and have a vote. That’s what the American people expect the Senate to do.

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN


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