Two U.S. Democratic senators are joining a petition effort to force the Republican-controlled Senate to consider whoever President Barack Obama nominates to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, expected to be the Senate Democratic leader in a year, and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called Wednesday for confirmation hearings on Obama's eventual choice and then a Senate vote on whether to confirm the nominee for the lifetime position on the nine-member court.
They joined a liberal lobbying group called Progressive Change Campaign Committee that says it has already collected half a million signatures of people calling for hearings and a vote on whoever Obama nominates.
Several Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, say the Senate should not consider any Obama Supreme Court nominee and should leave the choice to Obama's successor, whoever wins the national presidential election in November, and thus give American voters a say in the court selection.
FILE - Senator Chuck Schumer
But Schumer predicted, "Senator McConnell will have to back off. I believe we'll get hearings and a vote."
He added, "I am amazed at how upset people" are about Republican calls to not consider any Obama nominee.
‘Delay, delay, delay’
Obama's Republican opponents say a new court nomination should not be considered so close to the next presidential election, with Obama set to leave office near the end of next January. Some have said hearings should not even be held on a nominee, while others have hinted they would be open to the hearings and perhaps a vote on Obama's candidate. The Republican presidential frontrunner, billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump, said at last Saturday's debate that Republicans should "delay, delay, delay" efforts to approve any Obama choice.
Obama says he will make his choice known "in due time," and is scoffing at critics calling for him to forego making a nomination. He noted Tuesday that the U.S. Constitution calls for presidents to nominate Supreme Court justices and for the Senate to "advise and consent" on a nomination, with nothing saying nominations should not be considered in a presidential election year.
Obama said he will offer an "indisputably qualified" candidate.
On Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama "regrets...looking back on it," that he played a role, when he served in the Senate in 2006 before winning the presidency two years later, in using legislative procedural rules to try to defeat the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito, a conservative judge appointed by former President George W. Bush who now sits on the court.
Earnest said Obama believes Democrats should have made a better public case against Alito's confirmation on substantive grounds, rather than try to thwart it through legislative maneuvering.
The Washington sparring over the nomination has been intense since the 79-year-old Scalia, a conservative stalwart on the court for 30 years, died last Saturday.
His replacement, whoever Obama nominates, could tip the ideological balance on the court, since Scalia was often the most vocal justice in the court's five-member conservative majority that held the upper hand in numerous 5-to-4 decisions over four reliably liberal justices.