WASHINGTON -- No senators actually said, "I'm rubber, you're glue," on Tuesday, but perhaps they should have as they took turns pointing fingers at the other party's record on Supreme Court nominations.
Soon after Justice Antonin Scalia died just over a week ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared that the Senate would not weigh any nominee whom President Barack Obama might select to fill the vacancy. In effect, the Senate would leave an empty seat on the Supreme Court for at least a year.
Soon thereafter, McConnell and his Democratic counterparts began highlighting each others' past remarks, singling out comments that seemed to agree with what the other side was arguing now.
McConnell noted various statements by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware, that suggested it would be a good idea to obstruct Republican presidential nominees.
On Tuesday, the rhetorical battle focused on Biden. Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said that in 1992, Biden, then chairman of the Judiciary Committee, had declared that President George H.W. Bush should "not name a [Supreme Court] nominee until after the November election is completed" and that if he did, Biden's committee "should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over."
Even as McConnell was bouncing those remarks at Democrats, Biden's replacement in the upper chamber, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), was getting out the glue in a discussion with reporters in the press gallery just outside the Senate chamber.
Coons noted that Biden helped confirm 11 appeals court judges in 1992, a presidential election year. And he quoted another part of that 24-year-old Biden speech, in which the future vice president said, "If the president consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justices Kennedy and Souter."
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was nominated in November 1987, was confirmed in February 1988, the year of an election in which then-Vice President Bush was being pitched as Ronald Reagan's successor.
Asked why Democrats' past remarks showed present hypocrisy but McConnell's did not, a spokesman for the majority leader argued that the current situation is unique. Kennedy was different, the spokesman said, because he was nominated before the election year even if the confirmation debate and vote happened in that election year.
McConnell reaffirmed in his Tuesday remarks how a Supreme Court nominee from Obama would be treated differently.
"Presidents have a right to nominate, just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent. In this case, the Senate will withhold it," McConnell said.
Democrats said McConnell's position amounts to refusing to work for a year.
"I understand that ultimately a nominee by this president may not be confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate, but I think everything about the historical record, everything about the constitutional structure ... urges that we do our job, that we not continue the obstructionism and the outright refusal to even consider nominees that have been characteristic of the last six years in the Senate, that we not risk spreading the infection of this dysfunction in the Congress to the only remaining branch which hasn't been decisively infected by it," Coons said.
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