Vice President Joe Biden argued Monday that his objection to a Supreme Court nominee from President George H.W. Bush so close to the election should not be used by Republicans to justify blocking President Obama's attempt to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Biden noted that in 1992, he was referring to a "hypothetical" vacancy that had not occurred. "In the same statement critics are pointing to today, I urged the Senate and the White House to work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the court functions as the Founding Fathers intended," he tweeted Monday evening. "That remains my position today."
Despite his attempt to walk back his comment from more than 20 years ago, Senate Republicans are using it as a shield now that Democrats are criticizing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for saying that Obama should not appoint another justice to the high court, with the election year well under way.
Biden dismissed such GOP sentiments. "Some critics say that one excerpt of my speech in 1992 is evidence that I oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year," he said. "That is not an accurate description of my views on the subject."
Biden's statement at the time was emphatic. "It is my view that if the president goes the way of Presidents Fillmore and Johnson and presses an election year nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over," the then-Judiciary Committee chairman said.
"Some will criticize such a decision and say that it is nothing more than an attempt to save a seat on the court in hopes that a Democrat would be able to fill it," Biden continued. "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. That is what is fair to the nominee and essential to the process. Otherwise, it seems to me . . . we will be in deep trouble as an institution."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who currently leads the Judiciary Committee, seized on the remarks on Monday. "Senator Biden, my friend from Delaware ... knows what the Senate should do," Grassley said. "And in his heart of hearts he understands why the Senate must do what he said in 1992 it should do."
The vice president offered himself as a model of bipartisanship for leading confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justices during two Republican presidencies. "My record as Judiciary Committee chairman is hard to beat," Biden said Monday. "I presided over the process that resulted in Justice Kennedy, a Reagan nominee, being confirmed to the Supreme Court in a presidential election year. I allowed the nominations of Judge Bork and Justice Thomas to proceed to the floor, even though they didn't have the support of the Committee."
Biden's adversarial management of the Bork nomination hearings marked the only time in modern political history that a Supreme Court nominee was blocked because of his judicial philosophy, rather than any question of ethics or qualifications. "They were the ones who started all this bad stuff with Bork and what they did to Bork was unseemly, terrible," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told the Washington Examiner last week. "They have systematically destroyed what was once a consensus process."