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Republicans Harden Opposition to Obama Supreme Court Nominee

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, center, holds a news conference with fellow Republican leaders on possible Supreme Court nominations after their party caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 23, 2016.

Numerous Senate Republicans have hardened their stance against any Supreme Court nominee put forth by President Barack Obama for the remainder of his term in office.

“No [confirmation] hearings,” said Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma as he emerged from a weekly gathering of the Republican caucus.

“I’m not going to meet with the nominee,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “There will be no hearing, no vote. We’ll let the next president decide.”

For more than a week, most Republicans had argued that the next president, not Obama, should pick a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this month. But until Tuesday, few had spelled out whether that meant voting to reject a nominee after confirmation hearings or an absolute refusal to grant any consideration whatsoever to an Obama nominee.

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky confirmed the prevailing sentiment after the caucus meeting.

“My view, and I can now confidently say the view shared by virtually everybody in my conference, is that … this vacancy should not be filled by this lame-duck president,” McConnell said.

Democrats: Obama should appoint

Democrats met separately behind closed doors and signaled no retreat from their insistence that Obama is both entitled and duty-bound to fill judicial vacancies throughout his term, which ends in January 2017.

“I would hope that Republicans will relent from a position that is unconstitutional and unsupported by the vast majority of the American people,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. “My message to Republicans is: Do your job.”

“I’ve talked with the president, and I know he will fulfill his constitutional duty. He will nominate an individual to bring the Supreme Court back to full strength. And of course, he should,” said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The next nominee to the Supreme Court deserves full and fair consideration by the Senate. That includes a timely hearing and then an up-or-down vote,” Leahy added.

Hoping for moderate pick

Obama could name his pick for the high court any day. Some of his Senate allies are urging a moderate jurist who will be difficult for Republicans to stonewall.

“Justice Scalia was one of the most conservative justices in American history,” said Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware. “I do not think President Obama should seek to replace him with a comparably outspoken progressive nominee. I don’t think this moment calls for that. I think this moment calls for balance and for challenging Republicans to put principle and our Constitution ahead of partisan advantage.”

Asked whether a moderate selection would alter his opposition to confirmation hearings, Republican Inhofe gave a succinct response: “No.”

A few Republican senators have said an Obama nominee deserves Senate consideration and an up-or-down vote. But they are too few to help Democrats overcome a filibuster of the nomination, if it ever reached the Senate floor.

Banking on public support

For now, both sides appear to be banking on public support for their stances, with Republicans seemingly eager to cast this year’s elections as a referendum on the future of the Supreme Court.

“Who will Americans trust to nominate the next Supreme Court justice?” McConnell said. “Will we allow the people to continue deciding who will nominate the next justice, or will we empower a lame-duck president to make that decision on his way out the door instead?”

“We’ll see what the American people cause them [Republicans] to do,” said Democrat Blumenthal. “The American people hold the ultimate hammer, and let’s hope they use it.”