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GOP, Dems Debate Past Comments on Court09/22 06:20

   The "H" word -- hypocrisy -- is suddenly in vogue at the Capitol as 
lawmakers debate how quickly to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court following 
the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The "H" word --- hypocrisy --- is suddenly in vogue at 
the Capitol as lawmakers debate how quickly to fill a vacancy on the Supreme 
Court following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that President Donald 
Trump's as-yet unnamed nominee will receive a vote on the Senate floor "this 
year," but has been careful not to say exactly when that will happen.

   Democrats accuse the Kentucky Republican of blatant hypocrisy after 
McConnell refused to consider President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, 
Judge Merrick Garland, eight months before the 2016 election.

   Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor Monday to 
remind McConnell of his own words hours after the February 2016 death of 
conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. "The American people,'' McConnell said 
then, "should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court 
justice.'' The vacancy created by Scalia's death should not be filled until the 
election of a new president, he added.

   "No amount of sophistry can change what McConnell said then, and it applies 
even more so now --- so much closer we are to an election,'' Schumer said 
Monday.

   But McConnell said it is Democrats who are being hypocritical. What 
Republicans did in 2016 --- blocking a nominee of the opposing party --- was 
"precisely what Democrats had indicated they would do themselves'' when they 
were in the majority, McConnell said in his own floor speech Monday. He and 
other Republicans cited a 1992 speech by then-Sen. Joe Biden --- now the 
Democratic nominee for president --- indicating that a vacancy occurring in an 
election year should not be filled.

   Biden, Schumer and other Democrats flip-flopped in 2016, in McConnell's 
telling, because they urged the Senate to act on Obama's nominee.

   McCONNELL IN 2016

   McConnell stunned the political world in 2016 with his declaration that the 
Senate would not consider a replacement for Scalia until after the presidential 
election nearly nine months away. While daring, McConnell said his action was 
justified by history.

   "Remember that the Senate has not filled a vacancy arising in an election 
year when there was divided government since 1888, almost 130 years ago,'' he 
declared again and again that year, frequently citing what Republicans called 
the "Biden Rule." That "rule" --- never adopted in any formal sense by the 
Senate --- urged the Senate to delay action on a Supreme Court vacancy until 
after the presidential election.

   "President Obama was asking Senate Republicans for an unusual favor that had 
last been granted nearly 130 years prior. But voters had explicitly elected our 
majority to check and balance the end of his presidency. So we stuck with the 
historical norm," McConnell said Monday as he recounted past fights over the 
Supreme Court.

   2019 McCONNELL STATEMENT

   By 2019, with Trump in office and a continued GOP Senate majority, McConnell 
said Senate action on a court opening close to the election would not be an 
issue. "Yes, we would certainly confirm a new justice if we had that 
opportunity,'' he told talk show host Hugh Hewitt in December. "And we're going 
to continue, obviously, to fill the circuit and district court vacancies as 
they occur right up until the end of next year."

   The main difference? Unlike 2016, when the White House and Senate were 
controlled by different parties, both are now under Republican control, 
McConnell said.

   "I'd also remind everybody what I just told you, which is the Senate is of 
the same party as the president of the United States,'' McConnell told Fox News 
in February of this year. "And in that situation we would confirm" a new 
justice.

   Schumer wasn't buying it. He cited a 2016 op-ed co-written by McConnell 
imploring that the American people be given the opportunity to "weigh in on 
whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the 
Supreme Court.''

   "Now these words don't apply?" Schumer asked. "It doesn't pass the smell 
test in any way. No wonder Leader McConnell was so defensive in his comments.''

   Schumer and other Democrats urged McConnell to abide by his own standard. 
"What's fair is fair. A senator's word must count for something,'' Schumer said.

   But McConnell, in his speech, said that at a time when "the American people 
have elected a Senate majority to work closely with the sitting president, the 
historical record is even more overwhelming --- in favor of confirmation.''

   Eight times in the nation's history vacancies have arisen during an election 
year when the White House and Senate were controlled by the same party. Seven 
of those times the justice was confirmed. The sole exception was in 1968, when 
President Lyndon Johnson tried to elevate Justice Abe Fortas to become chief 
justice. The nomination faced a filibuster due in part to ethics problems that 
later led Fortas to resign from the court.

   "Apart from that one strange exception, no Senate has failed to confirm a 
nominee in the circumstances that face us now,'' McConnell said.

   "The American people reelected our majority in 2016 and strengthened it 
further in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump on the most 
critical issues facing our country. The federal judiciary was right at the top 
of that list,'' he said.

   On that final point --- the importance of the judiciary --- Schumer agreed.

   "That's what this (fight) is all about,'' he said. "All the rights enshrined 
in our Constitution that are supposed to be protected by the Supreme Court of 
the United States" are at stake.

   "The right to join a union, marry who you love, freely exercise your right 
to vote ... (and) proper health care. If you care about these things and the 
kind of country we live in, this election --- and this vacancy --- mean 
everything,'' Schumer said.

 
 
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