President Joe Biden met with Senate Judiciary Committee leaders on Tuesday as Democrats worked to gain significant GOP support for his Supreme Court nominee — a steep challenge in a Senate that has been sharply and bitterly divided over the past three confirmations.
Speaking to reporters as the meeting began, Biden said Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin and the top Republican on the panel, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, are “two good friends” and noted that the three of them had worked on many Supreme Court nominations together in their decades on the panel.
“The Constitution says ‘advise and consent, advice and consent,’” Biden said. “And I’m serious when I say I want the advice of the Senate as well as the consent.”
As Biden mulls a replacement for Justice Stephen Breyer — a Black woman, he has promised — Durbin has been proposing a ceasefire of sorts after wrenching partisan fights over former President Donald Trump’s three nominees. The Democratic Illinois senator has been vigorously reaching out to GOP colleagues since Breyer announced last week that he will step down this summer.
The bipartisan meeting at the White House was also an attempt at détente by the president, who along with Durbin and Grassley is a veteran of a bygone era when Supreme Court justices were confirmed with overwhelming support from both parties.
Senate confirmation of Biden’s nominee is far from assured, as advocates push him to nominate a strong liberal and some Senate Republicans criticize the president even before he makes his decision.
Durbin told reporters on Monday that his list of Republicans he’s spoken to is “longer than you would imagine” based on his quarter-century in the Senate and many years on the Judiciary panel.
But at a Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday morning, Grassley criticized Democratic advocates who pressured Breyer to retire and said nominees should be judged “solely on their qualifications” to perform the role of justice. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who might be the most likely GOP senator to vote for a Biden nominee, called the president’s handling of the nomination so far “clumsy.”
Other Republicans have stoked a debate over Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said he views the process as “affirmative action.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said it’s discriminatory because Biden is saying “wrong skin pigment and wrong Y chromosome” to white men and women.
“The fact that he’s willing to make a promise at the outset, that it must be a Black woman, I’ve got to say that’s offensive,” Cruz said on his podcast this week.
The court was made up entirely of white men for almost two centuries. Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Thurgood Marshall are the only two Black men who have served on the court. There has never been a Black woman.
On the other hand, Durbin has noted that Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump both promised to pick women and were praised when they nominated Sandra Day O’Connor and Amy Coney Barrett, respectively. There have been only five female justices in U.S. history, while there have been 110 men.
“It is not uncommon for a president of the United States in filling a Supreme Court vacancy to announce in advance what type of person he wants,” Durbin said Monday.
As for the upcoming consideration of a nominee, he noted that during the recent lengthy debate about whether to change Senate rules to overcome a GOP filibuster blocking Democratic legislation, many Republicans argued that working together is still possible in the divided chamber.
“Now, the proof is in their performance,” Durbin said. “Will they be willing to work with us on a constructive, timely basis to deal with a Supreme Court nomination? Do we have a chance that some of them will cross the aisle and join us? I hope so.”
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