On Friday, the White House hosted an on-the-record conference call with reporters featuring Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Professor Verna Williams of the University of Cincinnati.
The focus on the call centered on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, and the Senate’s constitutional duty to give him a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote.
Mr. Schultz said the president chose Judge Merrick Garland because of his impeccable credentials and an unassailable record of legal excellence. The White House consulted wide range of sources including republicans, Schultz said, adding that Mr. Garland brings more federal judicial experience than any previous supreme court nominee along with his proven ability to build consensus, which has elicited bipartisan praise. “He’s a committed public servant who puts country first,” Schultz said, citing his leadership work in the Oklahoma bombing carried out by Timothy McVeigh. “We are proud of his work.” Schultz said Judge Garland has only been able to meet with Democratic senators so far, but more meetings with more senators is in the works.
Senator Sherrod Brown didn’t say anything new from what he’s said before on why senators should do their job to accord Garland hearings and an up or down vote. “People should go to work everyday and do their jobs,” he said, noting that there’s been no similar precedent for stalling such a nomination for an entire year. Brown noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy got hearings and a vote in President Reagan’s last year when Democrats controlled the Senate. By doing what they are doing, Sen. Brown said, Senate Republicans are disrespectful to the Office of President and disrespectful to the U.S. Constitution. “Do your job, having meetings with him, have a vote,” he told reporters, remind them that President Obama is only one of four presidents to have been elected twice with more than fifty percent of the vote. He called on Republican leaders, especially Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to come to his senses.
Ms. Williams said the constitution is the playbook for judicial selection, and said McConnell’s Senate is disregarding that play book. Republicans are citing what they call the “Biden Rule” to justify their obstinacy, but Williams cut through that argument, saying their so-called “Biden Rule” amounts to one line out of a 22 page speech Vice President Biden delivered back in 1992, following the controversial saga of Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the high court. In fact, the Cincinnati law professor said, Senator Biden was urging the executive branch and the Senate to work together to seek compromise. The GOP’s creation of the “Biden Rule” is fiction, she said, since its a statement taken out of context from his 1992 address. By engaging in unprecedented obstructionism, professor Williams said the court won’t be able to carry out its constitutional duties because there will be a 4-4 split. “The law of land would be fractured as it would depend on the geographic location of the case.
Schultz said that the vice president’s talk at Georgetown University explicitly said that there should be one law in the land, not laws that only pertain to different states. Ms. Williams agreed, saying people have had their say because they’ve elected the president twice, and the second time is relevant to this nomination because they know his mind based on his previous nominations to the court. Consequently, she said, current politics isn’t relevant but the constitution still is. Williams said Republican senators are politicizing the issue by abandoning what constitution says, adding that their most recent statement that the National Rifle Association wouldn’t approve an Obama’s pick is off base. “So if that isn’t politicizing the issue, I don’t know what is,” she said.
Sen. Brown reminded reporters on the call that the average time for eight nominees over last decades to enter the process is just 66 days.
In Ohio, GOP incumbent Sen. Rob Portman is being blasted on a daily basis by his Democratic challenger Ted Strickland on the issue. Sen. Portman is holding fast to his rejection of holding hearings for Garland, which appears to be playing to the advantage of former Gov. Strickland, who won his primary contest by a lopsided margin and who is among the candidates who can win his race and help return control of the Senate to Democrats next year.