Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) surprised CNN anchors John Berman and Poppy Harlow on Monday, calling "total B.S." on Berman's characterization of a Republican "double standard" when it comes to the nomination of Supreme Court justices during presidential years.
The uncharacteristic comment from the senior senator came the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee held its hearing to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's pick to become the next Supreme Court justice. If approved by the committee, Gorsuch's nomination would then go the full senate for a vote. Gorsuch is widely expected to be confirmed, as there are more Republicans than Democrats in the upper chamber. Democrats have threatened to filibuster Gorsuch's nomination, however, which raises the specter of a possible rule change ending the filibuster for judicial nominees.
Democrats have accused Republicans of "stealing" the Supreme Court seat, since former President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland last February following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans in the Senate refused to hold a hearing for Garland, citing the fact that it was an election year, and that the choice should be left to the next president.
Berman pressed Hatch on the Republicans' "double standard" of holding confirmation hearings for Gorsuch, but not for Garland. Berman noted that while Republicans and Democrats alike have pointed out that Gorsuch is qualified for the job, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the same about Garland, including Hatch himself.
In 1997, when the Senate voted to confirm Garland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Hatch called Garland "highly qualified" for that position, further praising his intelligence and scholarship, as well as his "equally impressive" legal experience.
Last year, after Scalia's death, Hatch changed his tone, writing in a Deseret News opinion editorial that Republicans' refusal to confirm Garland to the highest court in the land had "nothing to do with the qualifications, character, or record of the nominee."
"So there seems to be a double standard where you're saying 'it was all right last year when we, for political reasons, halted the nomination of Merrick Garland but it's not OK this year when Democrats try to halt the nomination of Judge Gorsuch. Why is that not a double standard?" Berman asked.
Hatch, who for years has been known for his statesmanlike speech and conduct, broke from his previous rhetorical methods, calling Berman out on his "B.S." characterization.
I'll just tell you straight up. That's total B.S. what you're saying there because I can't go back in time and show you any case where during a presidential election year they've allowed a Supreme Court justice to be nominated unless both sides agree. And both sides didn't agree on this.
Hatch later added that Garland is a "fine fellow," and a personal friend of his. But at the end of the day, Hatch said, Republicans had "every right" to deny Garland any hearings during an election year.
"And at that time, keep in mind, it looked as though Hillary was a sure winner and we would have gotten an even more liberal judge than that one. But that was a stand on principle not some new barbaric thing that some have tried to make it," Hatch said.