President Barack Obama is challenging Republicans to live up to their avowed adherence for the Constitution and agree to vote on his nominee to replace late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Despite widespread Republican insistence that he leave the decision to the next president, Mr Obama said he had no intention of abdicating his responsibilities before leaving office early next year. He told the Senate he expects “them to do their job as well”.
“The Constitution is pretty clear about what’s supposed to happen now,” Mr Obama said before returning to Washington from California.
The fallout from Scalia’s unexpected death overshadowed Mr Obama’s two-day summit meeting with Southeast Asian leaders. Mr Obama pledged to nominate a candidate “indisputably” qualified, but Republican leaders have threatened to refuse to hold hearings or a vote on his pick to replace the conservative Scalia.
The stakes are particularly high because Scalia’s replacement could tip the ideological balance of the court. Scalia’s death leaves the court evenly divided between four liberal-leaning judges appointed by Democratic presidents and four-conservative-learning judges appointed by Republican presidents.
The US Constitution provides that any nominee put forth by Mr Obama for the high court must be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans currently have a 54-46 majority.
There were hints that at least some Republicans might come around. Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley said he would wait “until the nominee is made before I would make any decision” about holding hearings, boosting White House hopes for getting a third justice confirmed on Mr Obama’s watch.
With the looming nomination creating ripples in the presidential campaign, Mr Obama sought to broaden his argument by calling the dispute emblematic of years of escalating partisan hostilities over judicial nominations. He lamented a new normal in which “everything is blocked” even when there’s no ideological or substantive disagreement – and conceded that Democrats are not blameless.
“This would be a good moment for us to rise above it,” Mr Obama said.
Court officials said Scalia’s body will lie in the Supreme Court’s Great Hall on Friday, after a private ceremony.
Since Scalia’s unexpected death at a Texas ranch over the weekend, White House lawyers and advisers have been scrambling to identify potential replacements, while also devising a strategy to get a nominee confirmed.