DES MOINES — Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley insists he’s standing on principle in refusing to hold confirmation hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, but appears to be reconsidering his refusal to meet with anyone the president put forth.
Grassley and the nominee, federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland, talked on the phone Wednesday afternoon and, according to the White House, an in-person meeting is being planned.
Grassley’s staff said he congratulated Garland but said the Senate GOP majority will “give the American people a voice and an opportunity this year to debate the role of the Supreme Court in our system of government.”
Grassley’s office said he would reiterate that position if there is an in-person meeting after the Senate’s Easter recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the White House he will not meet with Garland.
Earlier in the day, Grassley said that although he planned to take Garland’s call, he will not schedule hearings on the president’s Supreme Court nominee to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“Today the president has exercised his constitutional authority,” the Republican senator said in a statement. “A majority of the Senate has decided to fulfill its constitutional role of advice and consent by withholding support for the nomination during a presidential election year.”
However, potential Democratic challengers state Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids and former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge said that now that Obama has nominated Garland, it’s time for Grassley to do his job by holding hearings before the Judiciary Committee he chairs.
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Hogg called for a Senate hearing “because that’s the way the process is supposed to work.” And Grassley is the only one in Washington who can make that happen, Judge said.
“He doesn’t need to wait for permission from his friends in the Republican leadership or Donald Trump,” she said.
But Grassley said he thinks people already have weighed in on their dissatisfaction with Obama — and that the principle of heeding the will of voters is bigger than any one nominee.
“By Obama’s own words, he saw the takeover of the United States Senate by the biggest change in membership since 1980 as a referendum on his administration,” Grassley said. “So the Senate is responding to the people’s voicing their disagreement. This is our checks and balances.”
Democrats have argued that the people already have spoken when they elected Obama for a second term, which still has about 10 months to go.
“Obstructionism” would be a better word for Grassley’s position. Judge said.
Iowans have been shocked by how Grassley and “Washington Republicans” have handled the nomination process, she said. “I’m not saying they have to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” (but) they have a duty to have a hearing.”
However, Hogg did call for an up-or-down vote on Garland.
A lawyer who has worked for two federal judges — one appointed by a Democrat, the other by a Republican — Hogg said “it doesn’t matter whether it’s nominated by a Republican or a Democrat, we need high-quality people who will serve on the United States Supreme Court.”
Judge, who said she will file her election papers this week for the June 7 Democratic primary, plans to make Grassley’s handling of the Supreme Court nomination a campaign issue. She thinks Iowans agree with her.
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“Voters expect people who are elected to do the job they are elected to do,” Judge said. She believes voter dissatisfaction with Grassley’s inaction will carry through to Election Day.
Voters as “expressing dissatisfaction with politics as usual … with what they see as gridlock and lack of activity in Washington,” she said. “Certainly, this is a prime example.”
Grassley conceded that waiting until the next president nominates someone has its risks. There has been speculation that if Hillary Clinton wins the election, she may nominate someone more liberal than Garland.
“Well, if you have to live by the principle ‘let the people have a voice,’ you have to accept the will of the people,” he said.
In 1995, Grassley was urged to support Garland for appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where he now serves as chief judge.
The written appeal came from another Iowan Republican icon — Gov. Terry Branstad. Garland is the governor’s second cousin.
Nonetheless, Grassley opposed the nomination then because, among other reasons, he wanted to shift the judgeship to another district with a heavier caseload.