Joe Biden on Sunday made a personal appeal to the handful of Senate Republicans who will determine if President Trump’s pending Supreme Court nominee will go forward, while framing the titanic battle over the high court opening as a referendum on saving health care coverage for tens of millions of Americans amid the worst pandemic in over a century.
The former vice president – speaking at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Sunday in his first address since Friday night’s passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – warned that if the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., go ahead with their push to confirm a successor to Ginsburg with less than 7 weeks to go until the Nov. 3 election, “it would cause irreversible damage.”
“The last thing we need is to add a constitutional crisis that plunges us deeper into the abyss – deeper into the darkness,” he stressed.
And he called the move by the president and the Senate Majority Leader an “exercise in raw political power.”
Pointing to McConnell’s refusal to hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee four years ago, after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died just nine months before the last presidential election, Biden argued that “having made this their standard when it served their interest, they cannot, just four years later, change course when it doesn’t serve their ends.”
Biden also pushed back on repeated calls by the president, the Trump campaign, and allies, to release a list of his own potential nominees. Breaking with precedent, then-GOP presidential candidate Trump in 2016 released a list of conservative potential high court nominees. Earlier this month, the president added another 20 names to his list.
“It’s a game to them, a play to gin up emotions and anger,” Biden said. “There’s a reason why no presidential candidate other than Donald Trump has ever done such a thing.”
The Trump campaign quickly fired back on Twitter, saying "Joe Biden is expecting people to vote for him without knowing who he’ll put on the Supreme Court. That should scare every single American."
Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. McConnell needs a simple majority to confirm the president's high court nominee.
Two moderate Republicans - Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - said this weekend that the nomition to succeed Ginsburg should not be taken up until after the election, when the next president and control of the Senate will be determined by voters.
McConnell can only afford to lose the support of one more Republican and still be able to push through Trump's nominee.
Biden, in his speech, pleaded with "those few Senate Republicans — the handful who will really decide what happens. Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created. Don’t go there."
"Uphold your Constitutional duty — your conscience," he said. "Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country."
Biden stated that "if Donald Trump wins the election — then the Senate should move on his selection — and weigh that nominee fairly."
But he stressed that "if I win the election, President Trump’s nomination should be withdrawn. As the new President, I should be the one who nominates Justice Ginsburg’s successor, a nominee who should get a fair hearing in the Senate before a confirmation vote."
Explaining his reasons for not joining Trump in publicizing his own list of potential high court nominees, the former vice president said “putting a judge's name on a list like that -could influence that person’s decision-making as a judge — and that's wrong” and argued that “anyone put on a list like that under these circumstances – will be the subject of unrelenting political attacks.”
And contrasting himself with the president, Biden stressed that “if I win, I will make my choice for the Supreme Court — not as part of a partisan election campaign — but as prior Presidents did - only after consulting Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate – and seeking their advice before I ask for their consent.”
But Biden falsely claimed that the Trump campaign had not called on him to release his list until after Ginsburg's death, stressing "after Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away they said 'Biden should release his list.'"
That's incorrect - the Trump campaign had repeatedly urged Biden to put out a list prior to Ginsburg's death.
Biden spotlighted what’s at stake in this nomination showdown.
“In the middle of the worst global health crisis in living memory, Donald Trump is at the Supreme Court trying to strip health coverage away from tens of millions of families and to strip away the peace of mind from more than 100 million people with pre-existing conditions,” he emphasized.
And Biden claimed that if the president “succeeds, insurers could once again discriminate or drop coverage completely for people living with preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes, and cancer. And perhaps, most cruelly of all, if Donald Trump has his way, complications from COVID-19, like lung scarring and heart damage, could become the next deniable pre-existing condition.”
The Biden campaign told Fox News on Sunday that the former vice president and his running mate – Sen. Kamala Harris of California – are in contact with Senate and House Democratic leadership regarding the Supreme Court vacancy and will be “regularly coordinating.”
A Biden campaign aide said that the discussions would focus on health care and protecting the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.