Vice President Joe Biden slammed Senate Republicans Thursday for citing the “Biden Rule” as reasoning for why they won’t hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick.
In a Thursday speech, Biden called Republicans “frankly ridiculous” for relying on comments he made in 1992 about the dangers of holding Supreme Court confirmation hearings in the midst of presidential elections.
Biden said the so-called rule that supposedly prevents Supreme Court nominations in an election year “doesn’t exist.”
He said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others in the GOP Senate leadership have quoted “selectively” from the remarks he made in 1992 on the floor of the Senate as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Those comments came after what the vice president called the “bruising and polarising” confirmation process involving Justice Clarence Thomas.
In the part of Biden’s 1992 speech that has been oft-cited by McConnell and other Republicans, Biden said then-President George H.W. Bush shouldn’t name a nominee if a vacancy arose until after that year’s November election.
“Should a justice resign this summer and the president move to name a successor, actions that will occur just days before the Democratic Presidential Convention and weeks before the Republican Convention meets, a process that is already in doubt in the minds of many will become distrusted by all,” he said. “Senate consideration of a nominee under these circumstances is not fair to the president, to the nominee, or to the Senate itself.”
On Thursday, Biden said that statement, taken out of context, glosses over his main gripe from the time — that Bush nominated Thomas, an “extreme candidate,” in 1991 without consulting his committee just four days after Justice Thurgood Marshall retired.
“They completely ignore the fact that, at the time, I was speaking of the dangers of nominating an extreme candidate without proper Senate consultation,” he said. “They completely neglected to quote my unequivocal bottom line, so let me set the record straight as they say: I said and I quote ‘if the president consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates his selections, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justice Kennedy and Justice Souter,’ end of quote.”
Biden told the group of law students at Georgetown University in Washington DC that, since there was no vacancy between Thomas’ confirmation and the presidential election, he couldn’t say what might have happened if a seat did open up. However, he added that his track record as the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee gave a pretty good hint as to what the outcome of a nomination would have been.
“I was responsible for eight justices and nine total nominees on the Supreme Court — more than, I hate to say this, anyone alive,” he said. “Some I supported, a few I voted against. But in all that time, every nominee was greeted by committee members, every nominee got a committee hearing, every nominee got out of the committee even if they didn’t have sufficient votes to pass within the committee.”
He continued: “Every nominee, including Justice Kennedy in an election year, got an up-and-down vote. Not much of the time. Not most of the time, every single solitary time. To now hear all this talk about the Biden rule, it’s frankly ridiculous. There is no Biden rule, it doesn’t exist.”
Biden later said “nobody is suggesting individual senators have to vote yes” on Garland, the chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
“Voting no is always an option,” he said.
“Deciding in advance simply to turn your back before the president even names a nominee is not an option the Constitution leaves open,” he continued. “It’s a plain abdication from the Senate’s duty. … [It’s] never occurred before in our history.”
McConnell has led the stand against holding a hearing for Garland, insisting the next president should be the one to fill the seat, which was opened after Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent death.
“The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration,” McConnell said last Wednesday. “The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”
But cracks have already begun to form within McConnell’s party. Some GOP senators have agreed to meet with Garland, while others have said they’d push his nomination through during the lame-duck session if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were to win the presidency. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois even said his fellow GOP senators should “man up” and hold a vote for Garland.
A number of polls show the majority of Americans are not in favour of the GOP’s platform, and an overwhelming majority believes the Senate GOP is making a political play that doesn’t have the best interest of the American people in mind.
Biden said that Garland’s “reputation for moderation” makes McConnell’s stance all the more puzzling.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” Biden said. “Washington right now is dysfunctional. They’re undermining the norms of how we conduct ourselves.”
“Our politics our broken,” he later said. “It’s no secret, our Congress is broken.”