WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats accused Republicans on Tuesday of taking their cues from Donald Trump after the Senate's No. 2 Republican said President Barack Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court should expect to be treated like a "piñata."
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Republicans were "acting like big, tough people threatening to destroy the reputation of a Supreme Court nominee they haven't even met yet."
Reid and other Democrats denounced a comment by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, who told reporters late Monday that anyone nominated by Obama to the high court "will bear some resemblance to a piñata."
Reid called the comment beneath the dignity of the Senate and said it was a threat in the mode of insults and bullying by Trump, the GOP front-runner for president.
"They don't know who the nominee is. They don't know anything about the person, but they already have in their mind they are going to beat this person like a piñata," Reid said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Cornyn's comment sounded like a threat made by Trump, "except I don't think he speaks Spanish."
Cornyn said Tuesday that his comparison of the nomination and confirmation process to a piñata was "only to say the confirmation process around here has gotten pretty tough."
Cornyn added that he was "not going to be preached to by the Democratic leader and by Democrats who've been responsible for filibustering judges, creating a new verb in the English language, 'Borked,' when they blocked Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court" in the late 1980s.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Cornyn's language "sounds like he might spend a little too much time watching Donald Trump rallies."
Cornyn's comments were not consistent with how most people believe the process of confirming a Supreme Court nominee should be handled, Earnest said.
The comments were "an indication that Republicans are digging in even further in an unreasonable position of not giving that person any sort of fair hearing, and in fact vowing to try to tear this person down," Earnest said.
The dispute over Cornyn's comments came as Senate Democrats met with Patty Judge, a Democrat who is challenging Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa. Judge, a former Iowa lieutenant governor, joined Senate Democrats Tuesday at a weekly luncheon.
The 82-year-old Grassley is widely popular in his home state and is favored to win a seventh term. However, the Democratic challenge will force him to spend money and deal with home-state criticism of Republican opposition to Obama filling the Supreme Court vacancy.
Reid said the Democratic challenger "is one Judge Sen. Grassley can't ignore."
Interviewed prior to her meeting with Senate Democrats, Judge said of Grassley: "I believe that Iowans don't like it any better than I do. I'm an Iowan. This is not the way we operate. We believe in going to work every day, we believe that if you're assigned a task, you do the task. And I think he needs to hold those hearings."