WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama called again Saturday for Senate Republicans to consider his nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.
Republicans countered by warning Democrats not to "seek to further divide our nation" by using the Supreme Court fight "to score cheap political points in an election year."
In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama acknowledged that "we're in the middle of an especially noisy and volatile political season."
However, the president argued: "At a time when our politics are so polarized; when norms and customs of our political rhetoric seem to be corroding - this is precisely the time we should treat the appointment of a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness it deserves. Because our Supreme Court is supposed to be above politics, not an extension of politics. And it should stay that way."
Obama urged Senate Republicans to "give Judge Garland the respect he has earned. Give him a hearing. Give him an up-or-down vote. To deny it would be an abdication of the Senate's constitutional duty. It would indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair."
In the GOP response, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said the battle over the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia was unique because an Obama choice would push the court's 4-4 split in the liberal direction and because the vacancy occurred "in the middle of an election year." Scalia died Feb. 13.
Tillis repeated the GOP argument that they would give voters a chance to decide the next justice by postponing action until the president elected in November makes a choice. He never mentioned Garland, whom Obama nominated Wednesday.
"The president and Democratic leaders aren't exactly thrilled with giving the American people a voice," said Tillis, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Tillis said Republicans were already moving on to addressing drug addiction and the needs of the military and veterans and said the next move was up to Obama and congressional Democrats.
"Will they join us in doing our jobs on behalf of the American people?" he said. "Or will they instead seek to further divide our nation by turning the Supreme Court process into a blatantly partisan back and forth? Are they going to resort to blocking and sabotaging important legislation and good-faith efforts to help the American people, all in the name of seeking to score cheap political points in an election year?"
Shortly after Scalia's death, Tillis cautioned Republicans against ruling out any Obama choice before he announced it, citing the unlikely scenario that the president would pick a candidate as conservative as Scalia. Tillis said a blanket refusal could seem "obstructionist."
On Friday, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk became the first GOP senator to publicly abandon his party leaders' insistence on blocking the process until a new president makes a nomination.
"It's just man up and cast a vote," Kirk said on the "'Big' John Howell" show on Chicago radio station WLS. "The tough thing about these senatorial jobs is you get yes or no votes. Your whole job is to either say yes or no and explain why."
Kirk faces a tough re-election contest this fall and is considered one of the most endangered Senate GOP incumbents.