Ayotte sticks to opposing any Obama Supreme Court nominee
By Evan Lips | February 19, 2016, 18:59 EDT
NASHUA, N.H. – U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Friday doubled down on her contention that the next president should nominate a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, not President Barack Obama.
The Granite State Republican unleashed an avalanche of tweets just after 1:30 p.m. Friday and directed followers to an article she wrote for the opinion pages of the Nashua Telegraph, her hometown newspaper. In the piece, she points out that the conservative justice’s death created an evenly divided court on many issues and accused Democrats of using the vacancy to “try to score political points.”
She also took on longtime Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, for what she perceived as his hypocrisy. Leahy wrote an article of his own on the subject, published Monday by USA Today. The senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the confirmation process would start, called efforts to block a hearing for an as-yet unnamed Obama nominee “a travesty.”
“The advice-and-consent role enshrined in our Constitution was not designed to allow a blanket prohibition of any potential nominee, but that is exactly where the Republican majority leader is trying to take us,” Leahy wrote, referring to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who leads the Senate majority.
Ayotte criticized Leahy’s “short memory” and cited a 2004 comment in which the Vermonter said “it is a well-established practice that in presidential election years, there comes a point when judicial confirmation hearings are not continued without agreement.”
A check on the archives of the Congressional Record shows that Leahy made the remark on Nov. 20, 2004, regarding delays in confirmation proceedings for nominations made by then-President George W. Bush ahead of the presidential election earlier that month. After Bush won re-election, votes went ahead.
Meanwhile, Ayotte’s re-election challenger, Granite State Gov. Maggie Hassan, remained silent immediately following Scalia’s death last Saturday. But on Monday, the Democrat released the first of a series of statements ripping Ayotte and her GOP colleagues in the Senate over vows to oppose anyone Obama nominates.
“Senator Ayotte’s decision to put her party leaders ahead of our country is a sad reflection of just how wrong her priorities are and how broken Washington has become,” Hassan said in her statement Monday.
Ayotte has refused to walk back her promise and amped up her opposition a notch with Friday’s Twitter blasts:
I believe strongly that the people of NH must have a say in this extraordinarily important debate.
— Kelly Ayotte (@KellyAyotte) Feb. 19, 2016
Should the Senate GOP leadership firm and block an Obama nominee straight through November’s general election, Granite State residents may have the final word. New Hampshire is considered one of a few “swing states” where incumbent Republicans may lose their seats in the upper chamber of Congress. Should Democrats gain control, that could shift the balance in favor of an Obama nominee.
The most recent RealClearPolitics.com average of three state voter polls, which dates back to the time period between Jan. 4 and Jan. 23, shows Ayotte holding a slim 4.7 percentage-point lead over Hassan.
A simple majority vote is needed for confirmation once the Senate Judiciary Committee is finished questioning the nominee, but 60 votes are required to avoid a filibuster to block progress to a vote. The judiciary committee can send the nomination to the Senate floor with a recommendation of approval, rejection or with no recommendation at all. To win the lifetime appointment, however, normally takes a vote of the full Senate.
Republicans currently control the Senate 54 to 46, with two independents typically voting with the Democrats. But 24 Republicans face re-election this year, compared with 10 Democrats. A Hassan victory, coupled with a handful of other Republican losses, could severely hamper the GOP’s efforts to block an Obama nominee.
Senate Democrats can already count on at least one New England Republican to break ranks in a confirmation battle. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who has represented the state since 1997, told reporters prior to an event at Husson University in Bangor that she would keep party politics out of her decision-making in the nomination process.
“I think it was unfortunate that the political maneuvering began immediately, within hours of his untimely and unexpected death,” Collins said Thursday about Scalia’s passing and the political reactions that followed. “Having said that, the Constitution clearly gives the president the right to make the nomination, even in the last year of his term.”
Ayotte’s Granite State colleague, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, made her position known on the Scalia replacement question Tuesday.
“The president should nominate and the Senate should confirm.” Shaheen told New England Cable News. “That’s the way we’ve always done it. There’s precedent for confirming justices in an election year.”