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Sen. Hassan: GOP ‘changed the rules’ about SCOTUS hearings in 2016

With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death leaving an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court mere weeks from the presidential election, a political battle is escalating over whether President Trump and Senate Republicans should push through a nominee before the country votes. Can Democrats stop them? New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Ginsburg's legacy and what comes next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for a view from the Senate to give us a sense of what's next for Democrats in their efforts to block a Senate confirmation of the president's choice for the court, I'm joined by Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.

    How do you see the legacy of Justice Ginsburg?

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.:

    Well, thank you for having me, Judy.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg was just a giant, not only in the field of law, where she paved the way for so many women who came after her to practice law, but in the cases that she chose to take on and the way she really stood for the proposition that, if people are free to be themselves, it strengthens all of us.

    And I think, for a lot of us, she was also a role model when it came to following a profession she loved, but also raising a family.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so when you hear President Trump saying he is going to nominate a replacement, another nominee for the court, by the end of the week, and the Senate intends to vote, Senate Majority Leader McConnell says there is going to be a vote soon, what is at stake here?

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan:

    Well, it kind of takes your breath away, because, when you think about four years ago, when they made the decision to block any kind of hearings for a nominee from President Obama after Justice Scalia died, today, they're reversing themselves.

    And what I think about a lot is what is at stake here. We're in the middle of a pandemic, and the Senate Republicans have been attempting, for the last several years, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, take away protections for people with preexisting conditions.

    They haven't been able to do it legislatively. So, now, instead of coming together with Democrats and crafting another COVID relief package to help people, they are rushing through a nominee to the Supreme Court because there is a case before the Supreme Court right after the election that would, in fact, repeal the Affordable Care Act and take away preexisting condition protection.

    So, that is their priority now, and that is what is at stake, is to put — install a justice who will take away health for millions of Americans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as I'm sure you know, one of the arguments they're making is that, historically, when there has been a Supreme Court vacancy in the year of a presidential election, and you had both the White House and the Senate majority of the same political party, that 29 times those nominations have gone forward.

    So, they are saying there is historical precedent for what they're doing.

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan:

    You know, they're coming up with all sorts of arguments to justify their reversal here.

    This election is already under way. People are voting already in early voting in lots of our states. And, again, the real priorities of the American people here are for us to come together, pass a continuing resolution to continue to fund the government, and come together to do what we need to do to continue to address the pandemic.

    And it is deeply disturbing to me, as it is to my Democratic colleagues, and I hope it is to more of my Republican colleagues, that the emphasis here would be on rushing through this nominee.

    This would be a rushed process even if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic. And to rush this through, in contradiction of the same standards they set four years ago, is really, as I said, breathtaking.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, as I'm sure you also know, there is inconsistency on the part of the Democrats' arguments.

    Democrats argued four years ago that there should be a vote, and I'm going to quote something that you said when you were running against your predecessor, Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte. This is from — we're going to lift something from a debate you had, and here is what you said:

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan:

    The Constitution of the United States says that the president shall nominate a candidate to be a Supreme Court justice and that the Senate shall advise and consent.

    It doesn't say, except in election years. It doesn't say except when government is divided. It says that you need to do your job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, again, that was from a debate when you were seeking to unseat, to defeat Kelly Ayotte.

    And you made the argument that there should be a vote in an election year, even — no matter what the party difference was.

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan:

    And then the Republicans changed the rules.

    I opposed what they did. They changed the rules. One of the things that we have to be able to do in this democracy of ours is hold both parties to the same set of rules.

    And I think it is critically important that the Republicans hold themselves to the same standards that they held themselves to four years ago. I think it is important for predictability in our democracy.

    But, again, it comes down to why are they doing this? Normally speaking, you would not rush a nominee through this quickly. You would not see the president of the United States making a nomination just a week or so after the death of a justice. And there would be serious consideration over the course of weeks and months of the nominee.

    So, what I keep being struck by is, why the rush? And, again, we come back to the fact that this is a Republican Senate that has been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act for a long time, and they seem to be in a rush to make sure they can install somebody who is likely to vote in favor of doing that.

    The American people, I think, believe that it is reasonable, given these circumstances, and given what the Republicans did four years ago, to let the next duly elected president make this nomination after he is inaugurated.

    And I hope very much that my Republican colleagues will examine their conscience and decide to join Democrats in insisting on that procedurally.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, I would just make the point that Democrats in 2016 and Republicans this year are saying that the court needs all nine justices, all seats to be filled. So, we're hearing the same argument from different parties.

    Right now, though, it looks as if Republicans have the votes to get this through, doesn't it?

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan:

    That's certainly one of the things we're hearing.

    We haven't heard from all of our Republican colleagues. We are urging them, again, to abide by the rules that they invented in 2016.

    And I will also note that, on the question of needing nine justices in case there is a dispute about the elections, the court currently has a 5-3 majority of conservatives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meaning — meaning what? That is still eight justices.

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan:

    Meaning, it is still eight justices, but, again, it didn't concern the Republicans when they changed the rules four years ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we're going to leave it there.

    Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, thank you.

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan:

    Thank you very much. Stay safe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for the Republican view on the Supreme Court nomination fight, tomorrow, I will talk to Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.

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