JOHNSTON — U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said Friday he would keep open a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy in 2020, even if his party still has full control of the process.
Grassley, during filming for this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa Public Television, also predicted neither President Donald Trump, nor GOP leadership in the Senate would support the idea.
Grassley is chairman of the Senate committee that begins the legislative process of confirming justices to the high court. If there is a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020, he would follow the same rule he used in 2016 to defend his refusal to hold hearings on Merrick Garland, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination to the Supreme Court after the death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia.
At that time, Grassley said the vacancy should not be filled during an election year, because voters in the November 2016 presidential election deserved a voice in the matter.
Trump won the 2016 presidential election and his nominee to the Supreme Court, conservative justice Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed in April of 2017.
“It would be the one year of (2020), if you want to follow the pattern of the Biden Rule, and I’d follow that,” Grassley said, referring to a 1992 speech by then-Sen. Joe Biden calling for the delay of any Supreme Court nomination hearings until after that year’s presidential election.
“That would be just 12 months, or let’s say the 10 months before the election of 2020,” Grassley said.
Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not be supportive of that plan, he said. Should a Supreme Court seat be held open until after the election, a victory by Democrats in the presidential race or for control of the House or Senate would rob Republicans of the opportunity to nominate a justice approved only by conservatives.
On a nationally syndicated radio show this week, Grassley encouraged current Supreme Court justices considering retirement to do so soon, so the Senate could confirm a replacement before this fall’s midterm elections.
Grassley’s statement, made on Hugh Hewitt’s conservative radio show, upset Democrats who accused Grassley of attempting to coax Supreme Court justices to retire.
“I’m not telling any Supreme Court justice what they should do,” Grassley said, during the taping of "Iowa Press." “But there are rumors last year and this year that somebody might be retiring. And so I’m trying to suggest to them the machinery of government. If you want this president to replace it and you want a Republican Senate to look at you, you ought to have done it yesterday.”
During filming for the show, Grassley also discussed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. Grassley said he agreed with administration leaders like Vice President Mike Pence who have said the investigation should end soon, but Grassley said Mueller should be given space to complete his work.
He also talked about the brewing trade dispute between the U.S. and China, which has already impacted some Iowa soybean farmers and threatens to cause further harm to the state’s ag economy. Grassley said he does not expect a trade war because he thinks the Trump administration is employing brinksmanship as a negotiating ploy. But Grassley also expressed concern for his home state.
“I am very nervous about this approach,” Grassley said. “I see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Now maybe two months from now you'll see me and that light is out. But right now I see some hope.”
"Iowa Press" will air on Iowa Public Television at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon on Sunday.