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Barrasso: Why this Supreme Court battle is different from that of 2016

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death has left an opening on the Supreme Court only weeks before Election Day. President Trump and the Senate GOP say they plan to fill the vacancy before the country votes. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the Senate’s third-highest ranking Republican, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he supports moving forward with confirmation hearings for Trump’s choice of successor.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator John Barrasso is the third highest-ranking Republican in the Senate. And he joins us now from Capitol Hill.

    Senator Barrasso, thank you so much for joining us again.

    We are just a few days away from the death of Justice Ginsburg, and we're just a few weeks away from the next presidential election.

    Why are Republicans so interested in moving this nomination to fill her seat right away?

  • Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.:

    Well, according to the Constitution, the president nominates when there's a vacancy. And 29 times, that's happened during a presidential election year, and 29 times, the president has made that nomination.

    And then, if the Senate is of the same party, generally, that person is confirmed, going all the way back to the 1800s. And if the Senate is of a different party, then that person isn't confirmed. So, we're just fulfilling our constitutional duties and responsibilities.

    And I expect President Trump to nominate a very highly qualified woman this Saturday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I know your point about 29 times.

    But I want to point this out. We went back and looked at the records. Every Supreme Court justice who was confirmed in an election year, going back almost 130 years, was confirmed more than 100 days, almost four months, at least, before the election.

    The last one to be confirmed with even close to that was in 1892. It was Justice Shiras under President Benjamin Harrison.

    So, you want to do this just a couple of weeks before the election. It seems unprecedented.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, I think Judge Ginsburg was right when she was asked about this and said, the president is the president from the first day of the term to the last day of the term. She was very clear.

    She was also clear on the kind of threats that Chuck Schumer is making now about expanding the size of the Supreme Court from nine to 11 or 13. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, no, shouldn't do that. Nine is the right number.

    And if the Democrats do the things that they're threatening to do, she said that would just politicize the court, and it shouldn't be done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She also said, Senator, that her dying wish was to have this nomination wait until after the president, the next president is elected.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, she actually said a different president is in office.

    She's been very clear on her opinions about President Trump. But we're just fulfilling our constitutional responsibilities. I'm looking forward to the president making a nomination this week.

    And what I'm expecting the Democrats to do is the same thing they did with the last nominee, which is the seek-and-destroy mission to go after someone's character, their credibility, to go — their playbook is to go back to your high school yearbook to try to find ways to discredit you.

    And we're going to proceed with hearings. Lindsey Graham's calling for hearings after we have a chance to vet this nominee. I think, most likely, this is somebody that's already been vetted through the process, because it's likely someone who is already sitting on one of the circuit courts as a judge.

    So, I expect to be able to move this through and clearly get this done this year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, you were asked four years ago, when Merrick Garland had been nominated by President Obama, along with a number of other Republicans, about considering his nomination.

    And here's just a clip of what you said. And this was in March of 2016.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Republicans have said that there should not be a better political fight. We have called on the president to spare the country this fight.

    Best way to avoid the fight is to agree to let the people decide, give the people a voice. Let the next president put forth the nomination.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, I know you're saying now it's different because you have a president and a majority in the Senate being the same party, but it looks to the American people, to many people, as if what's — the only thing that's changed here is political party, that political party takes precedence over everything.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, there's a materialistic difference between 2016 and 2020.

    And it's that the president and the Senate is of the same party. And then you take a look at what happened in 2018, where there wasn't a presidential election in place, but with the Kavanaugh nomination, and the meat grinder that the Democrats put him through.

    What we saw after that is, the voters decided we needed more Republicans in the Senate, and we actually picked up two seats.

    And I will tell you, Judy, if the shoe were on the other foot, the Democrats would be trying right now, if there was a Democrat Senate and a Democrat president, to fill this vacancy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right now, it is the choice of the Republicans.

    And, again, I mean, for the American people looking at this, it looks as if, there Washington goes again; it's all about political party over country.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, that's not what I hear in Wyoming.

    What I heard in Wyoming this past weekend in three different communities was, fill this vacancy. Make sure you put somebody on the court who is somebody that realize that the role of a justice is to apply the law, not legislate from the bench.

    That's what we have tried to do with the last 200 judges that we put on the court during the last several years of this Trump administration. I think we have been very successful at that. We want to put an end to the time of activist judges. And we're going to continue to do that with what I assume is going to be a terrific nominee by President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, what is it that so — I hear you saying activist judges, but what is it that concerns you about having a fourth judge appoint — a justice appointed by a Democrat?

    What — I mean, I'm giving the hypothetical. What if Joe Biden were to win the election, and a Democrat in the White House would appoint? What is it about a 5-4 court vs. a 6-3 court that matters so much?

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, first of all, the Democrats have a war room and a playbook of what they plan to do if they win the presidency, the Senate, and hold the House of Representatives.

    And it's to actually expand the size of the court. It's to add liberal, activist, partisan judges to the court, things that Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, please don't do that. They want to expand the size of the Senate and pack that as well by making D.C. a state.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    We have seen this whole list of horribles from the — from the Democrat playbook, if they win all three.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We haven't heard that from — we haven't heard that from former Vice President Biden or from Senator Schumer, the majority — the minority leader.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, I would say I saw Senator Schumer in March standing outside the Supreme Court yelling at the building, saying, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, you will pay the price.

    This is something that Democrats — it came up in the debates for the presidency throughout about expanding. The House of Representatives has voted a bill to pass to make D.C. a state to give the Democrats two more Senate — Senate seats in the Senate.

    So, this is part of their playbook. This is part of the plan. And this is, to me, one of the main reasons that we cannot allow Joe Biden to get elected president or the Senate to go to the Democrats, because they are going to continue this train going far to the left, and the driver of the train is not Joe Biden.

    It's Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ocasio-Cortez. I mean, those are the ones that are really controlling the party. When you saw Chuck Schumer the other night having a press conference, this is a guy that doesn't like to share the microphone or the camera with anybody, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is with him, that tells you who's really running the Democrat Party today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator, I think it's fair to say that's your perspective, as a Republican senator from the state of Wyoming. That's not what the Democrats would say, or at least what I hear them saying.

    But we can continue this conversation another time.

    Senator John Barrasso, we thank you.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Thank you, Judy.

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