Democrats have been up in arms with Senate Republicans who’ve promised to block any Supreme Court nomination from President Barack Obama to replace conservative justice Antonin Scalia, who was found dead at a Texas resort Saturday.
Democrats have argued that such a course of action is obstructionist and puts politics above the rule of law.
Obama said as much at a press conference Tuesday on the issue: “I am amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there.”
But a reporter asked Obama to comment on similar actions he took as a U.S. senator: “How do you respond to Republican criticism that your position is undercut by the fact that you and other members of your administration who were in the Senate at the time tried to filibuster Judge [Samuel] Alito in 2006?”
Obama seemed momentarily taken aback by the question — and took a politically softer tone with his response.
“You know the a, look, I think what’s fair to say is that how judicial nominations have evolved over time is not historically the fault of any single party,” Obama replied. “This has become just one more extension of politics. And there are times where folks are in the Senate, and they’re thinking as I just described primarily about, ‘Is this gonna cause me problems in a primary? Is gonna cause me problems with supporters of mine?’ So people take strategic positions, and I understand that.”
UPDATE 5:51 p.m. ET: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday said Obama’s 2006 Alito filibuster bid was “an approach the president regrets.”
Rather Obama and other Democratic senators “should have been in the position where they were making a public case” against Alito’s nomination and “shouldn’t have looked for a way to just throw sand in the gears of the process,” Earnest said, according to the Hill.
But Earnest added that the Republican senators’ promise to block an Obama nomination is “different” than the filibuster of Alito, since he had the votes for confirmation — which made the Democrats’ gesture merely symbolic, the Hill noted.
In addition, the press secretary said Obama’s filibuster was “based on substance” as opposed the the GOP’s political objections to the president picking a Scalia successor, the Hill added.