Originally published Feb. 23, this story was updated to include comments from Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
WASHINGTON — Amid the US Senate GOP’s obstruction of the White House’s Supreme Court nominee, observers have been fretting Democrats might jam up appropriations or other Senate business in retaliation.
But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his leadership team say they plan to take the high road. They will, however, keep up a war of words, with the message Republicans refuse to do their job and are creating a constitutional crisis of historic proportions.
“I’m not going to turn us into the obstruct caucus,” Reid said Tuesday at his weekly news conference at the Capitol. “We’re going to do our work. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re going to proceed.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and top Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday that the Senate will hold no hearings or confirm any Supreme Court nominee advanced by President Obama. Nor would McConnell hold a courtesy meeting with whomever the president nominates, he said at his weekly press conference at the Capitol.
“My view, and the view shared by virtually everybody in my conference, is the nomination should be made by the president the people elect in the election that's underway right now,” McConnell said. “The overwhelming view of the Republican conference in the Senate is that this vacancy should not be filled by this lame-duck president.”
Earlier in the day, McConnell made a tough statement from the Senate floor warning the White House that the GOP-controlled Senate would not act on anyone President Obama chooses to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans have mostly stood unified behind him, though there have been several dissenters.
Democrats do not plan tit-for-tat obstructionism of their own, said Richard Durbin, of Illinois, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat and ranking member of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee. Yet Durbin said he expects the impasse to complicate and encumber the Senate’s business, as Durbin conceded “hard feelings around here” as a likely impediment to certain bipartisan legislation.
“We don’t have a strategy or plan in response to this,” Durbin told reporters. “We’re not going to let this go away. McConnell is hoping that this is the last day you’ll ever ask him a question about this.”
Senate Democrats say history and the American public are on their side.
“Can you imagine if you went to your job and said, ‘I don’t feel like doing my job but pay me anyway,’” said top Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Patrick Leahy, of Vermont. “I don’t think the American people will stand for it if we don’t do the job we’re paid for.”
Ahead of a weekly policy luncheon for Senate Democrats, there were signs that some were against retaliating with a Senate slowdown or shutdown.
“It is my hope that we will not simply escalate,” said Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a prominent Democrat on the US Senate Appropriations Committee. “There are a variety of steps the Senate minority could take. I really hope we can avoid them.”
Coons is taking a diplomatic tack, engaging with “rank-and-file” Republicans to find common ground. Derailing the appropriations process, he said, would extend the partisan “destructive pattern,” and he opposes it.
“If you think about it,” he said, “that could literally lead to a government shutdown.”
The Senate Appropriations Commitee's top Democrat, Barbara Mikulski, on Thursday would not rule out a slowdown, but said she anticipated regular order on appropriations bills.
"Right now we're advocating for the Republicans to change their direction and follow the procedures of the Senate and the Constitution, that's where we are," Mikulski said. "We'll develop the tactics that are appropriate for the time."
Democrats would be in the wrong if they were to retaliate by stalling the appropriations process, said Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Committee from Alabama.
"You need to have a nominee to the court, we need to stop that in its tracks, and I think we will, and then you have the appropriations bill that runs the government" said Shelby. "Two different things."