Flashback: Obama, Biden, and Pelosi Demanded SCOTUS Vacancy Be Filled Before the 2016 Election


As soon as the news broke Friday that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away, it feels like it wasn’t five minutes before the mainstream media was talking about Republican hypocrisy.

It may have been longer; I wasn’t quite counting. What was clear, however, was that they weren’t going to wait before the casket was on the bier before they were digging up quotes from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from the 2016 Merrick Garland nomination fight to use against Republicans.

This struck a false note for several reasons. For one, I’m sure Ginsburg was aware of her oncoming mortality at some level and the attendant battle over her seat on the court that would occur. In a statement dictated days before her death, according to NPR, she said  her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

However, I don’t believe anyone would have wanted their not-insignificant legacy remembered by cutting to talk of their replacement with such alacrity.

Here’s my composite impression of the coverage of Ginsburg’s death: “This is a shot outside of the Supreme Court, where mourners are gathered to honor the life and work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Let’s go back to the studio, where we’ve assembled five people to talk about how Mitch McConnell is the biggest hypocrite ever.”

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Yes, McConnell had once said — during a time where the Senate and the White House were controlled by different parties — that the president shouldn’t advance a nominee in an election year. Republicans now control both bodies, meaning the situation is considerably different. What’s notable is that few in the mainstream media point this out. They also don’t mention the hypocrisy of top Democrats.

And that hypocrisy, by the way, is uniform. The three most powerful Democrats right now, almost inarguably, are former President Barack Obama, former Vice President (and current presidential nominee) Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

All three have been against President Donald Trump nominating a replacement for Ginsburg on the court, saying the Senate has the obligation to wait until the election. All three were for the Senate considering Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016, insisting the Senate had the obligation to consider the nomination.

While the mainstream media may not have remembered, Republicans certainly did.

Here’s President Obama in a clip dug up by Caleb Hull:

“When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president of the United States is to nominate someone, the Senate is to consider that nomination,” Obama said.

“Either they disapprove of that nominee, or that nominee is elevated to the Supreme Court.

“Historically, this has not been viewed as a question. There’s no unwritten law that says that it can only be done on off-years. That’s not in the constitutional text.”

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He went on to say that the Senate had the obligation to consider anyone he sent to the body for confirmation.

“I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there,” Obama jabbed.

Ho ho. Meanwhile, I’m amused that a former constitutional law professor reads into the Constitution a provision that the upper chamber must honor the wishes of a recently deceased justice in 2020.

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“Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals. That’s how we remember her. But she also left instructions for how she wanted her legacy to be honored,” he wrote in a post on Medium.

“Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in.”

And this is rich: “A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment,” Obama wrote. “The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle. As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican Senators are now called to apply that standard.”

As are former presidents, if one is to go by that rubric, and it conveniently ignores what the rest of the Democrats and the media were willing to ignore: Barack Obama’s party didn’t control the Senate when Merrick Garland was nominated and he was unlikely to be confirmed.

That’s not because of an unusual animus on the part of Senate Republicans toward Barack Obama. As McConnell pointed out in a statement, presidential nominations to the Supreme Court in an election year where the president’s party didn’t control the Senate were unlikely to succeed:

If former presidents have to be consistent, so do men who want to be president. House speakers do, too.

Yet, as a video tweeted by Republican National Committee head Ronna McDaniel proved, there was no consistency aside from inconsistency from either Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi. In fact, back in 2016, Biden said “the American people deserve a fully staffed court of nine,” meaning the president not only had the right to nominate someone, the Senate had the obligation to confirm the nomination.

Nancy Pelosi was in there, too, saying in 2016 that “what we’re seeing here, and I hope this is temporary, is a disrespect for the Constitution.”

“The American people expect the president’s nominee to be given a fair hearing and a timely vote in the Senate.”

This year, Biden has struck a different tone.

“That moment is now for the voters to get a chance to be heard, and their voice should be heard,” Biden said in a Sunday speech on the subject of Ginsburg’s death, according to a transcript from Rev. “And I believe voters are going to make it clear. They’ll not stand for this abuse of power, this constitutional abuse.”

So it Trump and Senate Republicans fulfill their constitutional obligations, it’s constitutional abuse?

Pelosi, meanwhile, said the House of Representatives would intervene, to the best of its ability, in the Senate’s ability to confirm a nominee.

“We have a responsibility,” Pelosi said in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” also on Sunday.

“We’ve taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. We have a responsibility to meet the needs of the American people. When we weigh the equities of protecting our democracy, that requires us to use every arrow in our quiver.”

It’s almost like 2016 didn’t exist to the three most powerful Democrats in the country. Meanwhile, the hypocrisy is supposed to lie with Mitch McConnell — and Democrats will tell you that every opportunity they can get.

Their own hypocrisy? Nary a peep from the mainstream media regarding that.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture