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Ernst and Grassley quiet on replacing Justice Ginsberg, loud about dead ‘pidgin,’ email gaffe


Illustration by Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Update: At approximately 5 p.m. on Monday, the Des Moines Register published a statement from Sen. Grassley in which he explains he is not opposed to the Senate evaluating and voting on a Trump nominee before Election Day, citing differences between 2016 and 2020. Sen. Ernst also released a statement confirming she, too, would “carry out her duty” should a justice be nominated by the president.

Both of Iowa’s U.S. senators face some of the most important decisions of their careers, as President Donald Trump moves forward with his plan to quickly fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Friday.

Neither senator has publicly stated if they support President Trump’s stated intention of having a nominee to the Supreme Court approved before the Nov. 3 election, which is only 43 days away. Two Republican senators — Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — have already announced they do not support the Senate voting on a nominee so close to an election.

It would take a total of four Republicans to side with all of the Senate’s Democrats to stop the Senate from holding a vote on a nomination.

Both Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were in the Senate when the Republican majority refused to take any action on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court following the death of Antonin Scalia. Just hours after the death of Scalia was announced on Feb. 13, 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the Senate would not consider anyone nominated by President Barack Obama.

McConnell said he was following a well-established historical tradition, but no such tradition existed. He also cited something he called the “Biden rule,” but there was no such rule. McConnell was referring to brief remarks Joe Biden had made during speeches in 1986 and 1992.

Despite the lack of a historical foundation for McConnell’s position, both Grassley and Ernst fell in line and supported the unprecedented move to ignore a qualified judge — Garland had more experience as a federal court judge than any Supreme Court nominee in American history — nominated by a president ahead of an election.

Grassley, then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, refused to even schedule for Garland’s nomination. Grassley had voted to confirm Garland as a federal judge in 1997 and had publicly praised Garland as an exemplary judge, refused to have even a courtesy meeting with the judge for almost an entire month after the nomination was submitted to the Senate.

After much public criticism for his role in obstructing the normal process for considering Supreme Court nominees, Grassley held a breakfast meeting with Garland, which the senator called “a pleasant bfast” in an Instagram post.

In the post, Grassley said, “Explained why the Senate won’t be moving fwd w his nomination. Next prez will decide after the ppl have a voice.”

According to Grassley and McConnell in 2016, eight months before a general election was too soon to confirm a new justice. Ernst strongly supported this view and defended the Republican majority’s refusal to take action on the Garland nomination.

“We will see what the people say this fall, and our next president, regardless of party, will be making that nomination,” Ernst said in February 2016, before Obama had even selected a nominee.

In 2020, things are different, according to McConnell, even though there will be less than two months between any nomination and the Nov. 3 election.

Just hours after Ginsberg’s death on Friday, McConnell issued a statement saying “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

McConnell once again claimed to be following a well-established historical tradition in promising a vote on a Trump nominee, and once again there is no such tradition. McConnell claims the difference between Garland and a Trump nominee is the presidency and the Senate majority are both held by members of the same party, and therefore the American people wanted senators to support the president.

Trump summarized the same idea in a more blunt fashion during a Fox News interview on Monday morning.

“Obama did not have the Senate,” Trump said. “When you have the Senate, you can sort of do what you want.”

Ernst took a similar position when asked during an appearance on Iowa Press in July.

“This is a different scenario, where you have a Republican president and a Republican Senate,” Ernst, now a member of the Judiciary Committee, said when asked whether she would vote for a Trump nominee if a vacancy on the high court occurred before the election. “There’s likely not to be a lot of disagreement when it comes to the selection of a justice.”

Asked if she would vote for a Trump nominee during the lame-duck session after the election, should President Trump lose and Republicans lose control of the Senate, Ernst said she would.

“I would support going ahead with any hearings that we might have, and if it comes to an appointment prior to the end of the year, I’d be supportive of that,” the senator said. “We would need to have some very serious discussion about that.”

“But again, it is — even though it is a lame-duck session — it is still a Republican president and still a Republican Senate.”

The same month, Grassley, still a member of Judiciary Committee but no longer the chair, said he wouldn’t support moving forward with a Supreme Court nomination before the election.

“My position is if I were chairman of the committee I couldn’t move forward with it,” Grassley told CNN.

Grassley, however, has not said he would oppose holding a vote on a nominee or vote against a nominee on principle.

The senior senator has not made any public statements about how he would treat a potential nominee. Since Ginsberg’s death was announced, Grassley has tweeted about a dead pigeon he found on his lawn, a dead deer (possibly the one Grassley “hit on hiway 136 south of Dyersville” in 2012) and his support for the University of Northern Iowa’s volleyball team.

Ernst also hasn’t said if she has changed her position, but did have to issue a statement after her reelection campaign sent out a fundraising email attempting to raise money off the Supreme Court vacancy approximately an hour after Ginsberg’s death was announced.

“BREAKING: The future of the Supreme Court is on the line,” was the subject line of the email, the body of which contained recycled material from earlier fundraising emails.

After strong pushback and criticism that a fundraiser framed in this way was tasteless, Ernst issued a statement claiming she had nothing to do with the email, but would take responsibility for it anyway.

“This email never should have gone out,” the statement said. “Though I never saw it, it was sent out under my name and I take responsibility for it. Tonight, my prayers are with the family of Justice Ginsburg.”

Ernst didn’t say she would take any action beyond announcing she was taking responsibility.

The next email the campaign sent out in Ernst’s name didn’t mention the Supreme Court or Ginsberg, but the subject line may have been intended to send a message to supporters after the senator had to disavow her Friday night fundraiser.

“I’m not backing down,” was the subject line of the fundraising email Ernst sent out on Saturday evening.


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