Proponents of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee believe they have a new winning argument to get the Republican-led Senate to act — the prospect of Donald Trump choosing someone to fill the vacancy.
Hardly, says Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, the Iowa GOP senator who steadfastly opposes any confirmation hearings or votes on Judge Merrick Garland until Americans elect the next president.
“There’s no problem with Trump appointing people to the Supreme Court,” said Grassley, who pointed to Trump’s February GOP presidential debate promise that he’d nominate conservative judges and specifically his mention of William Pryor.
President George W. Bush appointed Pryor, Alabama’s former attorney general, to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor has angered those on the right and left.
“If he’s going to appoint people like that I don’t have any doubt,” Grassley said after a weeklong recess week back home in which liberal activist groups were relentless in pressuring the senator to hold hearings on Garland.
Grassley, who is seeking a seventh term, faced billboards and demonstrations as he met constituents at town halls around the state.
Obama nominated Garland on March 16 to fill the vacancy created by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February. While some Senate Republicans have held courtesy visits with Garland, they refuse to hold hearings or vote on his nomination.
Democrats and outside groups targeted Grassley because of his chairmanship of the Judiciary panel. Obama administration allies also have focused on vulnerable Republican senators in states such as Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that Obama won twice.
Grassley said the strategy isn’t working and he doesn’t feel any more threatened in this race than previous ones.
“I approach every election as if it’s going to be the toughest election I’ve ever had and this one’s no different,” he said.
He did acknowledge that at nearly every stop on his weeklong tour of Iowa town halls he was asked about the court.
Grassley hasn’t faced a close election in decades. He won his Senate seat in 1980 — the year Ronald Reagan became president — with 54 percent of the vote.
“It’s going to backfire. If there is one thing Iowans hate it is a politicizing of the courts, and when you do it with millions in outside special-interest money it doesn’t work,” said Tim Albrecht, a political adviser hired this week by the Republican Party of Iowa to help with the U.S. Senate campaign. Albrecht has worked on GOP campaigns since 1999 including the Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush campaigns.
Grassley said that refusing to consent to Obama’s nominee is a legitimate use of the Senate’s advice and consent power provided in the Constitution.
Last week, Obama told CBS affiliate KCCI in Des Moines that it’s up to Grassley to defy Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set aside politics and move Garland through the committee.
“Sen. Grassley wasn’t elected by Sen. McConnell, he was elected by the people of Iowa,” Obama said.