White House spokesman Josh Earnest’s artful dodge on Tuesday about Vice President Joe Biden’s 1992 argument against the president nominating a Supreme Court justice during an election year prompted laughter from the press corps.
In the wake of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the debate over whether President Obama should nominate his replacement in a contentious election year has flared up in Washington. Obama has pledged to choose a replacement in the coming weeks, while Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are determined not to hold hearings.
Biden helped the GOP case when newly unearthed video from 1992 showed him arguing President George Bush should consider holding off on a nomination until after the election.
“Should Senate Republicans take the advice of Joe Biden from 1992 when he said action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over, or Joe Biden of 2016 who insists the president’s nominees should get full consideration?” reporter Kevin Freking asked.
“Kevin, I’d go with both,” Earnest said, as some reporters sitting around him laughed. “Because Vice President Biden in 1992 in the same speech that you noted said if the president consults and cooperates with the Senate, or moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justices Kennedy and Souter.”
However, Earnest’s words are countered by the fact that Obama already rejected the idea that he would nominate a moderate justice. His prior picks, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, are two of the left-leaning members of the Court.
Earnest went on to defend Biden’s tenure as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“He wasn’t just in the United States Senate so that he could confirm Supreme Court justices appointed by Democrats,” Earnest said. “I know there’s often this old adage that sometimes politicians are reduced to the expression that people should do as I say, not as I did. In this instance, we actually want the Republicans in the Senate to do precisely as Vice President Biden did when he served in the Senate.”
Freking asked if Earnest would acknowledge that Biden’s prior words had made it more difficult for Obama’s nominee to get a hearing this year.
“I would not, precisely because of Vice President Biden’s record when he served on the Judiciary Committee,” Earnest said.
The line of questioning showed how tough Biden’s prior rhetoric will be for the White House to wave off.
“It is my view that if a Supreme Court justice resigns tomorrow or within the next several weeks, or resigns at the end of the summer, President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not, and not, name a nominee until after the November election is completed,“ Biden said at the time.
Biden repeated the argument later on, according to an old Washington Post article.
The words were in direct contradiction of Biden now. According to the New York Times, he argued last week that “to leave the seat vacant at this critical moment in American history is a little bit like saying, ‘God forbid something happen to the president and the vice president, we’re not going to fill the presidency for another year and a half.”