Feb 13, 2016 10:51 PM

Steinhauser: Ayotte, Hassan differ in political fight over when to fill SCOTUS vacancy

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – The incumbent and the challenger in New Hampshire’s high profile U.S. Senate race don't see eye to eye on whether the Senate should wait until a new president takes office next year to confirm a nominee to succeed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan released a statement on Sunday urging a timely confirmation, saying "the Senate needs to put politics aside and fulfill its constitutional duty by taking up a Supreme Court nomination in a timely fashion. It would be completely unacceptable, and a clear sign of Washington's dysfunction, for the Supreme Court to be without a justice for a full year because of partisan politics.”

The statement was first reported by NH1 News.

A couple of hours later Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte weighed in, writing "we’re in the midst of a consequential presidential election year, and Americans deserve an opportunity to weigh in given the significant implications this nomination could have for the Supreme Court and our country for decades to come. I believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the American people have spoken by electing a new president.”

In the evening, Hassan responded, saying "failing to take up a Supreme Court nomination is a complete abdication of the Senate's constitutional duty. Senator Ayotte's decision to put her party leaders ahead of our country is a sad reflection of just how wrong her priorities are and how broken Washington has become."

Monday, Ayotte's campaign responded.

"Ever since she declared her candidacy for US Senate, Governor Maggie Hassan has been avoiding voters and ducking questions," said a release from her re-election campaign.

"Yesterday, however, Governor Hassan decided to speak up about the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Now that she's suddenly weighing in, we're eager to hear where she stands on the pressing national security issues facing the Senate, that she has so far been silent on."

Scalia, 79, died Saturday in Texas. The passing of the conservative justice leaves the Supreme Court evenly split between Democratic and GOP appointees during a presidential election year.

The President said on Saturday night that he intends to nominate a new Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy left by Scalia’s death.

"I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time,” Obama said in televised remarks.

A couple of hours earlier Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged the President to leave the nomination to his successor.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," said the Republican from Kentucky. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urged that the vacancy on the high court be filled “right away.”

“It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat," the Nevada Democrat wrote in a statement.

Saturday evening both Ayotte and Hassan put out statements following the news of Scalia's death.

“I am deeply saddened by Justice Scalia's sudden passing. Our country has lost a staunch defender of our Constitution and a brilliant jurist, and I am very grateful for his distinguished service to our nation. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time,” said Ayotte.

Hassan wrote “Justice Scalia served our country with honor and our entire nation mourns his sudden loss. Tom and I send our deepest condolences to Maureen, his entire family, and his many friends, loved ones and colleagues.”

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