Scalia Chamber Seat Draped

The draped seat of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away Saturday.

By Burgess Everett
Published: 02/16/16 – 07:24 PM EST
Updated 02/16/16 – 08:38 PM EST

  • Some Republicans are getting queasy over the optics of barring a Supreme Court nominee from even a courtesy hearing.

Mitch McConnell’s message to the White House after Antonin Scalia’s death on Saturday seemed unequivocal: Don’t even bother sending a Supreme Court nominee to Congress, we won’t act on it.

But on Tuesday, some Republicans were signaling they’re open to at least holding hearings, if not allowing a confirmation vote.

In an interview on Tuesday afternoon Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin bristled at the suggestion that his party would completely ignore a nomination: “It’s amazing how many words are being put in everybody’s mouth.”

“I don’t know how things would play out. However it plays out I will fulfill my constitutional role in voting” on the nomination, said Johnson, one of the most vulnerable Republicans this fall. “I don’t think anybody said we are not going to do anything. They are going to wait to see what the next step is.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, whose panel would evaluate any potential Obama pick, said he wouldn’t rule out holding hearings. Johnson and other Republicans hastened to add, however, that even though hearings are a possibility, winning enough GOP votes to actually approve an Obama nominee would be very difficult.

Republicans have a difficult needle to thread, particularly for those up for reelection this fall in more liberal states. With all but two GOP senators thus far backing McConnell’s view that no Obama nominee should be approved before the election, Republicans want to avoid being tagged as obstructionist by Senate Democrats eager to score points in a year when control of the chamber is up for grabs.

Essentially, the GOP message is this: We respect Obama’s decision to make a nomination, even though that appointee stands no chance of being confirmed. It’s a more nuanced view than an outright blockade, and suggests that the optics of barring a Supreme Court nominee from even a courtesy hearing are making some Republicans queasy.

Democrats, meanwhile, predict McConnell will fold.

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