Senate Republicans hiding behind the ‘Biden rule’

Who knew that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and the rest of the Senate Republicans had turned over the role of writing that body’s procedural rules to Vice President Joe Biden?

And people lament the lack of bipartisanship in Congress.

McConnell, in defending his refusal to consider a Supreme Court nomination from President Barack Obama on Wednesday, repeatedly cited the “Biden rule,” which apparently dates to 1992 when Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and argued against the consideration of a president’s nomination to the court in the final year of his term.

Never mind that Biden was making reference to a hypothetical vacancy on the court, one that was rumored but didn’t occur that year. Never mind that as judiciary chairman, Biden made certain that every actual Supreme Court nomination presented to him got a hearing, a committee vote and a floor vote.

In rejecting consideration of the president’s nomination of Merrick Garland, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia, McConnell elevated Biden’s political bluster to the status of a procedural rule, one that holds that the nomination should wait.

“The American people are perfectly capable of having their say … on the issue. So let’s give them a voice; let’s let the people decide,” said McConnell in invoking the “Biden rule.”

Except that the people already have decided. Obama was the choice of 65.9 million Americans in 2012, a majority who made their decision to elect the president to a second full four-year term.

Four years ago, the American people knew that nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court could be an issue either during Obama’s second term or Mitt Romney’s first. At the time of the election, four of the court’s justices — Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — were between 73 and 79 years of age, and the American people knew that a court vacancy could occur at any point during the next presidential term.

Popular opinion also appears to support giving the president his due and having the Senate give full consideration to a nominee.

A Pew Research Center poll of 1,002 U.S. adults in mid-February found that 56 percent believe the Senate should hold hearings and vote on Obama’s nominee; 38 percent said hearings shouldn’t be held, but even 1 in 4 of that group said it could reconsider depending on who Obama’s nominee was.

A more recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found 63 percent in favor of hearings and a vote for a nominee with only 32 percent opposed.

Yet McConnell and the Republicans persist, insisting they are standing on principle and not opposed to the person.

Clearly, many would not be opposed to Garland; they haven’t been before.

In selecting Garland, Obama has nominated a jurist who has served on the federal appeals court in D.C. since 1997. Seven current sitting Republican senators voted to confirm him then. By all accounts, Garland is regarded as measured, careful and moderate with deep respect for the Constitution.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, following Obama’s Rose Garden announcement, tweeted that he would “be happy to carefully consider” Garland — if nominated by the next president.

But what reason — beyond hiding behind a pretense of procedure — do Republicans have to wait?

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