What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Durbin: Why is Senate GOP prioritizing Supreme Court seat over pandemic relief?

Amid memorials for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the political fight over confirming her replacement is already in full swing. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's second-highest ranking Democrat, is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss why he thinks Republicans are being inconsistent about filling this Supreme Court vacancy and what happens next.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As memorials for Justice Ginsburg continue, the political fight over when to confirm her replacement is already in full swing.

    Lisa Desjardins is here with the view from Capitol Hill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is the second highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, and he sits on the Judiciary Committee.

    He joins me now from Capitol Hill.

    Senator, thank you.

    Let's get right into this story, first of all.

    Senate Republicans say, they were elected, and that's why they control the Senate and the White House. Why shouldn't they be able to vote and hold a confirmation of a Supreme Court justice now?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.:

    Lisa, if you have a little bit of a memory, you know that, four years ago, they argued just the opposite.

    When there was a vacancy in the closing year of the Obama presidency, Antonin Scalia's passing, it was McConnell and all of his Republican senators who were just pleading to the heavens, saying, you can't ask us to fill this vacancy in the last year of a presidency. Let the people speak in the election. Then let the new president decide.

    Well, it's a different script this year. And you ask yourself, what's the hurry? Why do they have to do this now? Well, some of them may have their doubts about the reelection of Donald Trump. Some others may think, this is our chance to finally kill the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court by putting another friendly justice on the court.

    Some of them may have other plans. But they are setting everything aside, coronavirus relief, economic relief, everything aside, to get this done.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, I have a memory. Our viewers have great memories.

    And, of course, I have to raise up, in 2016, Senator, you were urging a different course. You were urging a vote on the nomination of Merrick Garland.

    Let's play some sound from that period of time.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    The constitution is very clear. A vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president is obligated to send a nomination to fill the vacancy.

    The Constitution goes on to say the Senate has a responsibility to advise and consent to that nomination, and that's where the process has stopped and fallen apart.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I hear you talking about a new precedent perhaps set by Republicans, but, in all this time about precedent, both sides pointing at each other, why not just say you don't want a nominee from the other party?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, it isn't that, Lisa.

    To be honest with you, I would like the other party to be consistent. What they're basically doing is saying, this is situational. If it doesn't help us, then we're not going to fill the vacancy. If it helps us, we will fill the vacancy.

    You can't build a Senate, you can't build mutual respect on that kind of a premise.

    But the bottom-line question most Americans are asking, why are you taking this up, instead of the obvious things facing our country, like the pandemic, and dealing with the economy, where so many people are suffering? Why is it this has priority over all those things?

    That, to me, is a legitimate question from voters across America.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Speaking of the voters, I have been talking to some Senate Democrats, who will tell me they are interested, perhaps, in expanding the Supreme Court if this nomination goes through and if you are successful in winning the Senate.

    I know you have said it's too soon to talk about that, but could you address it? Shouldn't voters know if Democrats are considering something like that this election season?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I'm not considering it. And there are some ideas out there and speculation, mainly from political theorists, very few from fellow senators.

    We have a job to do, and that job over the next five or six weeks is to prepare the American people for a new president. I think they're ready. I think they understand that, when it comes to protecting their health care, to make sure that they're not discriminated against because someone in your family tested positive for COVID-19 or some other preexisting condition, those are the issues that people really care about.

    These other things, speculation on the future of the court, for example, important, but not now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President Trump has put on his list of people he's considering for nominee — for nominating for the Supreme Court.

    Should former Vice President Biden do the same thing?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I'd recommend against it, and I think he's announced he's not going to do it.

    Trump is the first president to put out the list of approved people. The so-called Federalist Society has to give them a stamp of approval. There are a handful of things they look for, and then they make the Trump list, which continues to grow by the day.

    But I don't think Joe Biden should do that. I trust his judgment. I served on the Judiciary Committee with him. I know the kind of people that he's backed for key spots in the judiciary. I think, when he gets the opportunity to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, it will be a quality person.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a process question.

    Hearings, we expect to happen in the Judiciary Committee, and I spotted you today on the floor chatting with the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein.

    Can you help us with strategy here for Democrats? Who will be the top Democrat handling hearings on this SCOTUS nominee? And will you attend hearings, or will Democrats boycott?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Dianne Feinstein is the ranking Democrat, and she and I are close friends. We have worked together over the years.

    And we met several times today on the phone and on the floor talking about how to approach this and the messages that we want to make sure are delivered. She has reached out to the other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for their input, doing exactly what we want her to do.

    In terms of where this is headed, in terms of the hearing, we're still waiting for final announcement on the actual hearing date, I'm told it might be the middle of October. But we hope that there's going to be information given to us, as there has in years gone by.

    We're talking about a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. We used to take the time to really analyze and investigate the people who are seeking those positions. I hope we don't short-circuit it this time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And, briefly, one more question. You mentioned the coronavirus earlier.

    I know I'm talking to businesses that are worried they might not make it another month. But any talk of relief is frozen in Congress. What needs to happen? What should Democrats be doing to get those talks restarted?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    It was a little over a week ago, about a week-and-a-half, the president in one shining moment, said, we have got to come up with a bigger COVID relief package, bigger than what the Republicans and Senate McConnell has offered.

    And I thought, finally, the breakthrough we have been waiting for, the phone call from President Trump giving marching orders to McConnell. Let's get something done.

    But there was no follow-up whatsoever. That's what it's going to take.

    Nancy Pelosi passed the HEROES Act, COVID relief, four months ago, and nothing significant has come out of the Republican side since. It's about time for us to sit down and get serious. A lot of people are waiting for this Congress to act.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, thank you for joining us.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Thanks, Lisa.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest