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Special Report

Supreme Court showdown heats up amid election-year drama

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 16, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today I am nominating Chief Judge Merrick Brian Garland to join the Supreme Court.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: This is precisely the time when we should play it straight and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves.

JUDGE MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Mr. President, it's a great privilege to be nominated by a fellow Chicagoan. I am grateful beyond words for the honor you have bestowed upon me.

OBAMA: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: The question is, will he have a hearing and will he be taken up by the Judiciary Committee? He will not be. People can choose to meet or not meet as they see fit, but this nominee is not going to be considered.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama today nominating Judge Merrick Garland. He is 63- years-old, graduate of Harvard. He clerked for Justice Brennan. He's the chief judge, as you heard, of the U.S. appeals court in District of Columbia, and he was nominated by President Clinton and confirmed back then 76 to 23 by the U.S. Senate. But as you heard, it doesn't look like the Senate will get a chance to vote on him this time.

Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Amy Walter, national for The Cook Political Report, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, McConnell is exactly right. When you had Josh Earnest on, he did a yeoman job trying to pretend it's about principle. This has nothing at all to do with principle. As we know, when the shoe is on the other foot, the Democrats refuse to confirm justices that were suggested by the GOP.

Look, ever since the Supreme Court became a super legislature with the abolition of the striking down of all the abortion laws until 40 years later, striking down all the laws on gay marriage, it has been a political appointment. The idea that the president said today this isn't about ideology, it's about competence, is nonsense. All that was destroyed with the Bork nomination, the most highly, competent, qualified nominee probably ever struck down entirely on ideology. And when Obama was in the Senate, he filibustered Alito whom he admitted has all the qualifications. It is about ideology. It's about power. Republicans have the power to say no. They should say no.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I just think this is going to be a harder argument for Republicans up in 2016 to make than it is for Mitch McConnell. And those Republicans up in 2016 -- exactly. It's easy to see right now while it's still early and they still have to worry about their Republican base and potential primaries. But as we move deeper into the summer, as you move into the fall, this is an issue that they're going to have to answer for, and they better have a better answer than this isn't about the person, this is about the process and Democrats would do the same thing.

We're going into a year if we have Trump at the top of the ticket where those candidates are already going to be under incredible pressure and they're going to likely get pulled under by that nomination. They need some way to distinguish themselves.

BAIER: But if you turn the whole thing around, Steve, and it's Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat that's open on the court and it's a Republican president and you have a Democratic Congress, is anything different?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: No. It's exactly the same. I think both Charles and Amy are right in that respect.

Look, I think if they need a better argument, here is a better argument.
This is basically reassertion of legislative power. That's what this is ultimately. I think Charles is right on this sort of raw political back and forth about this, but I do think there's some principle involved here.

You saw the president of the United States exercise his power beyond, I think, his constitutional power on Obamacare waivers, on delaying the Obamacare mandate, on Libya, arguably, certainly on immigration. He himself said that he didn't have the power to do what he ultimately did.
This is the legislature standing up and saying, look, this is our rule. We have it within our power to do this. We are going to do it, period.

BAIER: We will get into the weeds of Judge Garland's record if and when there's a signal that he's going to get hearings.

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