Republican White House hopefuls called for president Barack Obama to step aside and allow his successor to nominate the next Supreme Court judge, in a debate jolted by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
In a debate on Saturday night, only Jeb Bush said Mr Obama had “every right” to nominate a justice during his final year in office. The former Florida governor said there should be “consensus orientation on that nomination” – but added that he didn’t expect Mr Obama would pick a candidate in that vein.
The five other candidates on the stage urged the Republican-led Senate to block any attempts by the president to get a third nominee on to the court.
Donald Trump said bluntly: “It’s up to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It’s called delay, delay, delay.”
Just six contenders took to the debate stage in South Carolina, far from the long line who participated in earlier events. Yet the Republican race remains deeply uncertain, with party elites still hoping that one of the more mainstream candidates will rise up to challenge Mr Trump and Ted Cruz. Many Republican leaders believe both would be unelectable in November.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton said at a dinner in Denver that Mr Obama has the right to nominate another justice. She said he is “president of the United States until 20 January, 2017. That is a fact my friends, whether the Republicans like it or not.”
Meanwhile, her rival, Bernie Sanders, said: “Let’s get on with it.” He argued that the Senate should vote on whoever Mr Obama nominates.
Mr Trump and Mr Bush tangled in some of the night’s most biting exchanges, highlighting the bad blood between the real estate mogul who leads the Republican field and the former Florida governor who was once expected to sail to the nomination.
In a particularly heated confrontation, Mr Trump accused Mr Bush’s brother, former president George W Bush,of having lied to the public about the Iraq war. “Obviously the war in Iraq was a big fat mistake,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Bush, who has been among the most aggressive Republican candidates in taking on Mr Trump, said while he doesn’t mind him criticising him – “It’s blood sport for him” – he is “sick and tired of him going after my family”.
Trump was jeered lustily by the audience in a state where the Bush family is popular.