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Obama: Supreme Court Nominee Fight Is An Extension Of Partisan Trench Warfare


President Obama is back in Washington this morning gearing up for a confirmation battle. The president was here in California over the weekend when news broke that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died. Obama says he plans to nominate a successor for Scalia in short order. And while that person may not be likely to win confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate, there are signs that he or she could at least get an election-year hearing. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama was in California for a summit meeting with East Asian leaders, part of his long-term effort to boost America's profile in the Pacific. When Obama hosted a post-summit news conference yesterday, though, that's not what reporters wanted to ask about.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My question is about the Supreme Court.

BARACK OBAMA: I'm shocked.


HORSLEY: Scalia's sudden death has shocked the political system, injecting another high-stakes showdown into an already contentious election-year. Obama told reporters the Constitution is pretty clear about what's supposed to happen now. His job is to nominate someone to fill the vacancy on the High Court, and he says the Senate's job is to consider that.


OBAMA: There's no unwritten law that says that it can only be done on off-years. That's not in the Constitutional text. I'm amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there.

HORSLEY: Obama argues the looming fight over a Supreme Court nominee is just an extension of the kind of partisan trench warfare that's become all too common in Washington. He complains about nominees to lower courts who were unanimously approved in the Judiciary Committee only to be stonewalled in the full Senate.


OBAMA: Unfortunately, the venom and rancor in Washington has prevented us from getting basic work done. Now, this would be a good moment for us to rise above that.

HORSLEY: Some Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have argued Obama shouldn't even bother nominating a replacement for Scalia but should instead leave that choice to the next president. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley left the door open, though, to holding a hearing on the president's nominee, and committee member Thom Tillis of North Carolina told radio host Tyler Cralle that might be the wisest course for Republicans.


THOM TILLIS: I think we fall into the trap - if we just simply say sight unseen, we fall into the trap of being obstructionist.

HORSLEY: A stalemate in the Senate this year would leave the choice of a new Supreme Court justice to the next president. Obama said during his news conference he doesn't think that'll be Donald Trump despite the billionaire's strong showing in national polls.


OBAMA: During primaries, people vent, and they express themselves and it seems like entertainment, and oftentimes it's reported just like entertainment. But as you get closer, reality has a way of intruding.

HORSLEY: The president declined to take sides in the Democratic presidential primary. He argues the differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are largely over tactics, and, he adds, he's not unhappy he won't be appearing on the November ballot. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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