Hillary Clinton seized on the struggle over the Supreme Court vacancy Monday, issuing a scathing indictment of congressional Republicans and blaming their “extremist tactics” in opposing President Barack Obama for Donald Trump’s rise as the leading Republican candidate.
“If you want to know where that kind of obstructionism and recklessness leads, just look at the Republican race for the presidency,” Clinton said in a speech at the University of Wisconsin here as she sought to capitalize on the tumult unfolding in the Republican primary.
She also offered an impassioned plea in support of Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.
“They say a Trump nomination will set their party back decades. I agree,” Clinton told the crowd. “But Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere.”
She reminded the audience of Trump’s previous calls to see Obama’s birth certificate and of declarations by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate majority leader, that the Supreme Court vacancy should not be filled until after Obama leaves office.
“When you have a party dead set on demonizing the president,” Clinton said, “you may just end up with a candidate who says the president never legally was the president at all. Enough is enough.”
'What kind of justice will Trump appoint?'
Clinton has often expressed support for Obama’s policies, which can endear her to a president who remains widely popular among Democrats.
But extending that support to the Supreme Court vacancy also signals that she is looking beyond the Democratic primary against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and is seeking to use the issue to appeal to independents and even moderate Republicans who might be wary of a Trump administration.
“As scary as it might be, ask yourselves, what kind of justice will a President Trump appoint?” Clinton asked, to gasps from the audience.
“As you know, he believes Muslims should be banned from entering the country because of their faith,” she said. “What would that mean for a nation founded on religious freedom?”
Clinton urging voters on issue
The struggle to replace Scalia has provided Clinton with an opportunity to thrust the Supreme Court to the top of voters’ concerns.
In her speech Monday, she noted that two Supreme Court justices will be older than 80 when the new president takes office, and she urged voters to “please make sure the court factors into your decision.”
“Whoever America elects this fall will help determine the future of the court for decades,” Clinton said, listing a range of issues — from voting rights and abortion, to immigration, climate change and money in politics — that could reach the court in coming years.
Republicans, she said “are fighting hard to make sure the Supreme Court includes as many right-wing justices as possible.”
Majority of Americans support hearing, vote
Fifty-three percent of Americans say the Senate should hold a vote on Obama’s nominee, while 42 percent said the Senate should wait until next year for the new president to nominate someone, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll. And while most voters have not yet formed an opinion about Garland, a vast majority — 68 percent — said that who sits on the Supreme Court is at least very important to them.
A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately return an email request for comment Monday. But some conservatives rebuffed Clinton’s speech, accusing her of politicizing the court.
“If Hillary Clinton is criticizing you, you must be doing something right,” said Adam Brandon, the chief executive of FreedomWorks, an advocacy group aligned with the Tea Party. “The Senate is performing its constitutional responsibility” in delaying the process until a new president takes office.
Says Trump's 'slogans aren’t a strategy'
The issue is just the latest over which Clinton has tried to portray Trump as dangerous. Last week, the day after the deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels, she took a break from fundraising in Palo Alto, California, to deliver a sharp rebuttal of Trump’s foreign policy prescriptions, saying that his proposals to rethink the U.S. involvement in NATO and to bar non-American Muslims from entering the country would alienate allies and empower enemies.
“Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire,” Clinton said Wednesday. “What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.”
'Delay, delay, delay'
Hours after Scalia died last month, McConnell said he would not schedule hearings on a nominee until after Obama left office, a proposal endorsed by Trump, who declared, “Delay, delay, delay.”
Clinton promptly called McConnell’s stance “totally out of step with our history and our constitutional principle.”
But Monday, she went further, accusing McConnell of undermining Obama and ignoring the American people.
“We chose a president. We chose him twice,” Clinton said. “And now Republicans in the Senate are acting like our votes didn’t count and that President Obama is not, still, our nation’s leader.”
'My voice is being ignored right now'
The Supreme Court vacancy also gave Clinton a chance to take aim at another adversary, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley has been one of the key Republicans investigating Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state and has focused on the “special government employee” status of one of her closest aides, Huma Abedin, now the vice chairwoman of the Clinton campaign.
“He says we should wait for a new president because, and I quote, ‘The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice,’” Clinton said of Grassley. “Well, as one of the more than 65 million Americans who voted to re-elect President Obama, I’d say my voice is being ignored right now.”
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