Some Senate Republicans have officially rejected moving forward on any US Supreme Court nominee named by President Barack Obama. The White House has suggested it could outmaneuver the attempt to block an appointment.
Republicans on the US Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday they had ruled out having a hearing on Obama's nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court bench. The White House decried the move as "unprecedented" in US history.
"Because our decision is based on constitutional principle and born of a necessity to protect the will of the American people, this committee will not hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until after our next president is sworn in on January 20, 2017," they wrote in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (pictured above).
Mere hours after Scalia's death on February 13, McConnell suggested the Republican-controlled Congress wait for a new president to select a nominee.
The decision is a major break with tradition, as even the most divisive nominees of the past have been given a committee hearing - the first step in the path to an appointment.
"Presidents have a right to nominate just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent," said McConnell, adding that "in this case, the Senate will withhold it."
White House: Nomination will 'absolutely' go forward
Responding to the announcement, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that "this would be a historic and unprecedented acceleration of politicizing a branch of government," and that the president would "absolutely" go forward with a nomination.
He also indicated that a potential nominee could still get a committee hearing elsewhere in the Senate, as several Republicans facing tough Democratic contenders for their seats in the fall elections have expressed willingness to at least debate a possible new justice.
The death of arch-conservative Scalia has ignited a political firestorm in Washington as Republicans, fearing a majority liberal court, have clashed with Democrats over whether it is appropriate for an outgoing president to chose a new judge in his final year in office.
es/cmk (AP, Reuters)