GREENVILLE, South Carolina: Feuding Republican presidential hopefuls came together as one Saturday after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, uniting to oppose President Barack Obama nominating a successor on the US Supreme Court.
The six challengers for the Republican nomination shared the stage in Greenville, South Carolina for their final debate for the state’s presidential primary on February 20, bowing their heads in a moment of silence to honor the court’s stalwart conservative who died Saturday at age 79.
To a man, they said it was vital that Obama not be allowed to fill Scalia’s vacant seat, arguing it was too close to the November 2016 election for him to exert that authority.
Replacing the conservative Scalia with a Democratic appointee could significantly alter the balance of the court.
Frontrunner Donald Trump noted that Obama would naturally seek to appoint a replacement.
But “it’s up to (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It’s called delay, delay, delay,” he said to loud applause.
Obama made a televised statement less than half an hour before Republicans took the stage, vowing to nominate a new justice and calling on the Senate to give his pick a “fair hearing and a timely vote.”
Senator Marco Rubio, seeking a breakout moment in South Carolina after fizzling in New Hampshire, also said Obama should not move to fill Scalia’s seat on the bench, saying lame duck presidents in their final year in office have not had a Supreme Court nominee confirmed for decades.
If he did, he would “ram down our throat a liberal justice, like the ones Barack Obama has imposed on us already,” Rubio said.
“It reminds us how important this election is.”
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, reiterated the imperative of confirming a true conservative as the court’s next justice.
Like Trump he acknowledged Obama’s right to put forward his pick.
“We want a strong executive for sure,” Bush said.
“But in return for that, there should be a consensus orientation on that nomination, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will not have a consensus pick when he submits that person to the Senate.”
The upper chamber of the US Congress is entrusted to consider and vote on a president’s court nominees.
The Senate is presently controlled by Republicans, and its leader, McConnell, made it clear earlier Saturday he did not want to see the seat filled “until we have a new president.”
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton reacted by saying the Republicans seeking to block any Obama nominee “dishonor our Constitution.”
“The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons.”