U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left open the possibility Tuesday of a hearing on the Senate Judiciary Committee if President Barack Obama nominates a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
But he made clear that he still believes the choice of a new justice should be delayed until a new president is chosen.
Grassley is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he and other Republicans have argued that a presidential election year isn't the time for a new justice to be confirmed.
However, when asked about the possibility of a hearing or committee vote on a call Tuesday with Iowa reporters, Grassley didn't explicitly shut down the idea.
"I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decision. In other words, take it a step at a time," Grassley said, according to an audio recording posted on Radio Iowa's web site.
Scalia, the court's leading conservative, died unexpectedly Saturday, prompting a political skirmish over his replacement, both in the Senate and on the presidential campaign trail.
Iowa Democrats have been critical of Grassley, saying he voted to confirm Anthony Kennedy to the high court in 1988, the last full year of Ronald Reagan's presidency. And the Democrats posted a 2008 video of Grassley saying then, "the reality is that the Senate has never stopped confirming judicial nominees during the last few months of a president's term."
Grassley declined to comment Tuesday on the Democrats' claims he was being inconsistent, saying he would need to look into the context of his remarks. But he said his views today are consistent with remarks that Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, made in 2007.
In July 2007, Schumer said that except for "extraordinary circumstances," the Senate should not approve any other Bush administration nominee to the Supreme Court.
At the time, liberal groups were complaining about the decisions of the court, and Schumer said then that the court was out of balance. Bush still had about a year and a half left in his term.
Schumer objected Tuesday to Republicans trying to use his remarks for political cover. He said he wasn't trying to block hearings or votes, as Republicans are now. But Grassley said Tuesday that since Schumer "thought that the balance on the Supreme Court was so important that particular year, we're very consistent with the philosophy he expressed."
Conservatives have argued confirming a justice nominated by Obama would tilt the court to the left.