WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans in favor of putting off consideration of a Supreme Court nominee during an election year have focused on an unexpected ally: Joe Biden, circa 1992.
As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman more than two decades ago, the vice president argued that President George H.W. Bush should wait until after the November election to name a nominee — echoing the case Republicans now make against President Barack Obama’s plan to try to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat.
Republicans on Monday gleefully circulated grainy video of Biden laying out his thoughts on the Senate floor. In the remarks, Biden said that a temporarily depleted court was small price to pay for avoiding a “bitter fight” that would assuredly damage the nominee, the Senate and the court, “no matter how good a person is nominated by the president.”
Looking past the election, Biden urged Bush, if he were re-elected, to “consult and cooperate” with the Senate and “moderate” his selections.
Biden’s plan was hypothetical, coming amid speculation that Justice Harry Blackmun was considering retiring in the coming weeks. And in a statement late Monday, he said any notion that he opposed filling Supreme Court vacancies in an election year “is not an accurate description of my views on the subject.”
Still, it was more than enough to fuel the elaborate game of gotcha playing out in Washington.
The debate over judicial nominations is a study in role reversals. Depending on which party is in power, several major players in the current fight have staked out positions on both sides:
WHAT THEY SAID THEN:
“President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not — and not — name a nominee until after the November election is completed. … Once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.”— Biden, June 1992.
WHAT THEY SAY NOW:
“Some critics say that one excerpt of my speech is evidence that I oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. This is not an accurate description of my views on the subject. 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.” — Biden, in a statement on Monday.
“The reality is that the Senate has never stopped confirming judicial nominees during the last few months of a president’ term.” — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in a forum in July 2008.
“It only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will…