Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) struggled to explain the so-called “Biden rule,” when pressed by a progressive activist at a Iowa town hall.
Asked about when the clock kicks in for a president to no longer be able to nominate a Supreme Court justice, Grassley demurred.
“I don’t think that finite approach can be answered unless you actually want to write a rule or law that says that,” Grassley said Thursday, describing the Biden rule as more of a “understanding.”
“I use the term Biden rule, and people think we’ve got a written rule, we don’t have a written rule, and maybe you can think of a better word than understanding,” Grassley said. “I think that if you are going to get that precise, it ought be something that’s on paper.”
As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which typically hosts hearings for Supreme Court nominees, Grassley is on the front lines of the GOP Senate’s refusal to go forward with the consideration of President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. He and other Republicans have cited what they have dubbed the “Biden rule,” referring to a speech Vice President Joe Biden made in 1992 when he was the Judiciary Chair discouraging then-President Bush from appointing a nominee in the months leading up to that year’s presidential election.
Biden has countered that Republicans are taking his speech out of context: for one it was made in June, while the current vacancy opened up in February, when Justice Antonin Scalia died. He was also discussing a hypothetical scenario, not an actual vacancy, and he said in the speech that he would still consider a nominee if he or she was a moderate.
As a historical happenstance, almost never in modern history has a vacancy opened up in the last year of a presidency when the Senate was controlled by the opposing party, meaning that there is no real precedent one way or the other guiding Republicans’ current blockade.
Video of Grassley’s answer Thursday is below, via American Bridge. The question was asked by Matt Sinovic, the executive director of Progress Iowa.