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Mar 30, 2016 12:48 PM

Steinhauser: Shaheen says Senate GOP SCOTUS nominee stance 'made up for partisan reasons'

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Senator Jeanne Shaheen has a message for Senate Republicans who are refusing to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

New Hampshire’s senior senator says “it is time for the Senate to do its job, to hold hearings on Merrick Garland’s nomination and to give him an up or down vote.”

The Democratic lawmaker made her pitch Wednesday morning at a news conference outside the federal court house in the Granite State’s capital city.

While Shaheen said her remarks were not directed at any particular senator but instead “are aimed at the majority in the United States Senate,” it’s clear her news conference put her smack in the middle of the hottest U.S. Senate race in the country.

Since the unexpected death last month of conservative Supreme Court associate justice Antonin Scalia, nearly all of the 54 Senate Republicans have insisted that with the future direction of the high court at stake, the next president, rather than President Obama, fill the vacancy.

One of those GOP senators is New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who’s facing a strong Democratic challenge this year from Gov. Maggie Hassan, in what’s turning into the most high profile, expensive and negative campaigns in the country.

National and state Democrats have been making the Supreme Court vacancy battle a key issue in drive to try and win back control of the Senate, and Ayotte’s faced constant criticism for the past six weeks.

But Ayotte’s standing her ground, recently telling NH1 News that “I believe that people should be weighing in in the November elections before a confirmation process goes forward based on who gets elected president in November.”

“This has never been about a particular person. This is about the principal of when you have a divided Supreme Court, a position of consequence, a lifetime appointment that will impact the nation and the interpretation of our laws and our constitution for decades, that the American people should weigh in," she added.

Shaheen disagrees, telling reporters Wednesday that “the fact is unfortunately this is the first time in the history of the Unite States where we have seen a majority in the United States Senate refuse to consider a nominee for the United States Supreme Court.”

“The idea that we should not do this in an election year is something that’s just been made up for partisan reasons. The fact is 14 times in the history of the United States the Senate has acted in an election year on Supreme Court nominees,” she added.

Shaheen emphasized that her remarks weren’t directed at Ayotte but rather are “aimed at everybody who’s refusing to consider this nominee in an election year. When we took that oath of office it didn’t say ‘I will defend and protect the Constitution only in non-election years’.”

Shaheen said that “I have not had a direct conversation with Sen. Ayotte but I have been clear from the very beginning in an op-ed, in floor remarks, in other comments to reporters that I think that we need to move forward.”

Shaheen told NH1 News hours after Garland was nominated two weeks ago that “Granite States don’t take an election year off from their jobs and we shouldn’t take election years off from our jobs in the Senate. We need to do our jobs. We need to allow the process to begin. Hold hearings on this nominee and make a decision. Either give him an up or down vote.”

While Hassan didn’t attend the news conference, Shaheen’s comments will help bolster her case against Ayotte over the high court nomination fight.

Hassan’s slammed Ayotte for her stance, telling NH1 News recently that “Ayotte is not doing her job,” adding that “there's nothing in the constitution that says you're supposed to wait until the next president is elected to do your job.”

Two years ago, when Shaheen was running for re-election, Ayotte vigorously supported the Democratic senator’s GOP challenger. While Ayotte continued to work with Shaheen on important bipartisan legislation that year, she campaigned for former Sen. Scott Brown, New Hampshire’s 2014 Republican nominee, appearing in some of his television commercials and fundraising emails.

Shaheen narrowly survived the powerful GOP wave that gave the Republicans control of the Senate.

Shaheen was joined at the news conference by former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick and UNH Law professor Erin Corcoran.

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