Washington — With the partisan battle to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, former President Bill Clinton said "you can't possibly be surprised" that President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are charging ahead with naming and confirming a nominee despite the close proximity to the presidential election.
"You can't possibly be surprised that Senator McConnell and President Trump are taking the position that they are," Mr. Clinton, who appointed Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, said on "Face the Nation." "They're for whatever maximizes their power."
Ginsburg died Friday at the age of 87 due to complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, and already her passing has set off a highly contentious battle over confirmation of her successor.
Mr. Trump said hea Supreme Court nominee this week and is urging the Senate to fill the vacancy, saying the chamber has an "obligation" to do so without delay. McConnell that Mr. Trump's pick to fill Ginsburg's seat on the high court will get a vote on the Senate floor.
But Senate Democrats are accusing their Republican colleagues of hypocrisy, as the GOP-controlled Senate did not hold a confirmation hearing for former President Barack Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. At the time, McConnell said the voters should have a say in who picks a successor to Scalia, since it was a presidential election year.
But McConnell has said the situation in 2016 differs from that of 2020, since Republicans now control both the White House and the Senate.
Mr. Clinton said there is another difference between the failed confirmation of Garland in 2016 and the current efforts to replace Ginsburg, namely that the country is far closer to the election now than four years ago.
Scalia died in February 2016, nine months before the presidential election, while Ginsburg's death came less than 50 days before voters will cast their ballots for the next president.
"There is a tradition of the president foregoing an appointment when you're closer to the election," Mr. Clinton said, adding that McConnell four years ago favored giving the American people a say in who will fill the seat. "It didn't take that long to change their tune, but that is their tune. They're for whatever maximizes power."
In paying homage to Ginsburg, Mr. Clinton called her "an astonishing human being" and said she "turned out to be even better than I thought."
Mr. Clinton recalled that during the selection process in 1993, he wanted a nominee who was "open-minded," "passionately committed to equality" and "capable of working in the setting of the Supreme Court."
"Of all the people I'd met, she had the best judgment on when to work with others whenever she could and when to stand up when she couldn't stand it anymore," Mr. Clinton said.