Chuck Grassley addresses criticism over filling Supreme Court vacancy: ‘They can’t accuse me of being hypocritical’
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley pushed back against charges of hypocrisy Wednesday, arguing he’s been consistent in his public statements about how he would handle a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year.
Grassley said Monday, 43 days before the general election, that he would support moving forward with hearings on Republican President Donald Trump’s nominee, though in 2016 he led the efforts to block Democratic President Barack Obama’s pick nine months before the election.
“I think if people read my entire statement, they can't accuse me of being hypocritical, because I'm not chairman now,” he said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.
In 2016, Grassley was chairman of the Judiciary Committee when Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly. He held the seat open until after Trump was elected and could fill it with a conservative justice.
After being inundated at public events by people who opposed those efforts, Grassley said he decided to make a promise to Iowans. He said that if he were still chairman and Republicans wanted to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in a presidential election year, he would do the same thing and postpone hearings.
Grassley has since reiterated that stance, saying in a July 2018 taping of Iowa Press that he would not support confirming a Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.
"It was very legitimate that you can't have one rule for Democrat presidents and another rule for Republican presidents," he said at the time.
Grassley said Wednesday that he is no longer the chairman of the committee and so his promise doesn’t apply. Grassley now leads the Senate Finance Committee, and Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina leads the Judiciary Committee.
“Once the president acts, we’ve got two choices: act or not act,” Grassley said. “But the chairman's decided he's going to act. And I have a responsibility to evaluate the nominees on the merits in the committee, and if it gets out of committee, I have a responsibility to evaluate the nominee on the merits when it comes to an up-or-down vote in the United States Senate as a whole.”
Grassley said that, regardless of his position as chairman, the circumstances now are different than in 2016.
“In 2016 with a Democratic president and a Republican Senate, we had divided government, which demanded clarity for the American people in those upcoming elections,” he said. “This is not the case today. The people spoke in 2016 with electing Republicans to the White House and the Senate, and reaffirmed their choice with an expanded Republican majority in 2018.”
Grassley accused Democrats of hypocrisy.
“The Democrats now are complaining because we're bringing (the nominee) up,” he said. “But the Democrats were saying in 2016 that the nominee ought to come up. So they reversed their statements from 2016.”
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
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