Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that his party won't permit a vote on any Supreme Court nominee submitted by President Barack Obama and will instead "revisit the matter" after the presidential election in November.
The Kentucky Republican acknowledged that Obama is within his rights to nominate a replacement for the late Antonin Scalia but said Republicans controlling the Senate would exercise their rights.
"Presidents have a right to nominate just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent," the majority leader said in a speech on the Senate floor. "In this case, the Senate will withhold it."
McConnell quoted a 1992 Senate speech by Vice President Joe Biden, then-chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Delaware senator, in which Biden said that in a presidential election year the Senate should "not consider holding hearings until after the election. Instead, it would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is under way, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over."
Scalia's unexpected Feb. 13 death ignited a major fight in Washington over whether Obama should be able to replace him in a presidential election year. McConnell offered one of the first salvos; Scalia had only been dead for a few hours when McConnell announced that he would oppose replacing him before the election.
But McConnell's remarks Tuesday were his first explicit statement that he would oppose a Senate vote, and his statement suggests he opposes Judiciary Committee hearings as well.
McConnell was at the centre of a battle a decade ago over Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees of President George W. Bush and, after Democrats took over the chamber in 2007, repeatedly said Bush's judges deserved up or down votes.
Top Judiciary Committee Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont said the GOP's promised obstruction was unprecedented.
"During my time on the committee, we have never refused to send a Supreme Court nominee to the full Senate for a confirmation vote, even when the majority of the committee opposed the nomination," Leahy said. "And once reported to the full Senate, every Supreme Court nominee has received an up or down confirmation vote during my more than four decades in the Senate."