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Senate Must Do Its Job; Consider Court Nominee, Klobuchar Says


Key Senate Republicans could not be more clear about this - if President Obama nominates a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, they will not approve. Not only won't they approve, they won't even vote. Not only won't they vote, they won't even hold hearings. In fact, never mind hearings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he would not even meet the nominee whom president has yet to name.


MITCH MCCONNELL: I don't know the purpose of such a visit. I would not be inclined to take one myself.

INSKEEP: The Republican leader says he is determined to avoid filling the slot until it can be done by a new president. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter approving that course. And this morning, we'll ask what, if anything, the Democrats do now. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar sits on the Judiciary Committee. She's in our studios.

Good morning.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is Senator McConnell's word the final word?

KLOBUCHAR: I don't think so because when you look at the Constitution, I think the Constitution should have the first word and the final word. And the Constitution says that the president has a constitutional duty and obligation to nominate someone for the Supreme Court.

INSKEEP: But this is a matter of power, and of course, the Republicans don't have to vote if they don't want to and they've said they're not going to do it.

KLOBUCHAR: I suppose, but sometimes minds are changed when people listen to the facts, when they listen to the people that they represent. And in this case, the Senate simply has to do its job and Mitch McConnell has to do his job. And when you look through history, whenever anyone has been nominated to the Supreme Court, since 1975, it's only taken an average of 67 days to go from that nomination to the culmination of the Senate confirmation process.

INSKEEP: Tell me one thing Democrats could or would do that would gain leverage in this situation and cause Republicans who signed a letter to undo that letter and actually hold hearings.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, we are - starting today, I'm holding a Steering Committee meeting - I'm head of the Democratic Steering Committee - with constitutional experts from University of Chicago and North Carolina and Columbia to just go through the facts, go through history here. Fourteen justices confirmed in election years. You haven't had an opening like this for an entire year. This will be two terms since the Civil War. So you get the facts out then you go to the people and you say this is wrong under the Constitution of the United States. Things have happened before in history where people have changed their mind. You also have a number of Republicans like Senator Collins, Senator Kirk, who have said they think there should be hearings. So you do have some divide among their ranks.

INSKEEP: Well, let's check another fact here. Republicans have looked back to 1992. You're correct that there have been many election-year confirmations of Supreme Court justices. But Republicans have pointed out that in 1992, Vice President Biden, then a Senator, gave a speech in which he said it would be a good idea not to be holding confirmation hearings. Now, I know Democrats have said, different situation, different time and so forth. But is there not some appeal to taking this issue to the people by saying we're going to have a presidential election, it's going to be about this?

KLOBUCHAR: I think, first of all, when you look at his words, you can also look at the words of Republicans. People have said all kinds of things. Senator Grassley said - in this last decade he said that there shouldn't be partisanship in this process.

INSKEEP: Oh, the Judiciary Committee chairman, sure.

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. And Senator McConnell said some things back in a law review article. People can just go back and forth between the parties.

INSKEEP: So let's just talk about the abstract...

KLOBUCHAR: What I like to look at is the facts.

INSKEEP: Well, let's look at the abstract idea. Is it a nice idea to get this off the table in an election year?

KLOBUCHAR: The point is nothing is nice about politics.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

KLOBUCHAR: This happened, a tragic death occurred. No one expected it. And then the question is what do you do? And I say you use the Constitution as your guide. And you also look at history to interpret it. We don't leave those positions open. You have to go back to the Civil War, and the words of the Constitution are clear. And for those senators who are always citing the Constitution in their floor speeches, this is their moment. They not just cite it, they read it, and it says the president shall nominate the Senate, advise and consent. And to me that means yes, Mitch McConnell should be meeting with the nominee.

INSKEEP: Senator McConnell says, quote, "we know what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot," meaning Democrats would be doing the same thing.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I can only speak for myself. I've thought about this long and hard. My husband's a law professor. We've taught about it. I don't think for a minute if there was an opening and a tragic death that I would say we should keep this open for a year. I don't think you saw one Democrat taking a different position. So that's where I am because I think that our job is the most important thing regardless of politics, regardless of what happens. This happened, and it's - how we respond is critical for the future of our democracy.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about what this seems really to be about. The country is changing. Republicans see their voter groups slipping away, shrinking, as some Democratic-leaning groups seem to grow. But they have this balance on the Supreme Court and they want to preserve it. Do you at least understand the concern, the anxiety that Republicans may feel in this situation?

KLOBUCHAR: Oh, I certainly can relate politically to how they must feel. It must be really difficult. They had this thing going for quite a while. You had a court that at times did make some unexpected decisions, like upholding the Affordable Care Act, but they knew who this justice was and they loved this justice. And he was a scholar. But he now tragically died. And so now they have to make a decision if they follow the Constitution or they follow politics. And if history is a guide, past parties look back to when Justice Kennedy was appointed. It is the exact parallel situation.

INSKEEP: Anthony Kennedy.

KLOBUCHAR: Ronald Reagan, in his last term - this - filling a position Democratic-controlled Senate. So you have the exact opposite. You have a Republican president - now we have a Democrat. You then had a Democratic Senate - now we have a Republican one. Democratic Senate not only confirmed Justice Kennedy quickly, they did it unanimously.

INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Senator Amy Klobuchar is a Democrat from Minnesota and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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