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Ernst, Grassley Support Hearings On Trump's Supreme Court Nominee

Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators announced Monday they would support the process of vetting President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. That stance is a reversal for both Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst since 2016.

Both senators were closely watched to see where they would fall on the issue that is likely to animate and further divide American politics in the sprint towards November 3. Both say they’ll stand by party leaders, who have pledged to hold a vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee.

Ernst: "I will carry out my duty"

Reversing her stance from as recently as 2018 that during an election year "the people should make that decision," Ernst now says it is her "duty" to vet Trump's pick.

“We have much to consider over the coming days. The Supreme Court plays a fundamental role in the defense of our Constitution and in the protection of our rights and liberties,” reads a written statement from Ernst released Monday afternoon. “Once the president puts forward his nominee for the Supreme Court, I will carry out my duty—as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee—to evaluate the nominee for our nation’s highest court.”

That echoes her statements to reporters earlier this summer. Answering a then-hypothetical, Ernst said on Iowa PBS’ Iowa Press that the Senate should vet and hold hearings on Trump’s nominee, even during a lame duck session in the event that he lost the November election.

Ernst drew criticism when her campaign sent out a fundraising email with the subject line “BREAKING: The future of the Supreme Court is on the line” shortly after Ginsburg’s death was announced. Democrats have fundraised extensively on the news as well, racking up tens of millions of dollars after the news of her passing.

Ernst faces a tough re-election campaign against Des Moines businesswoman Theresa Greenfield. According to a Des Moines Register / Mediacom Iowa Poll published Saturday, Greenfield leads Ernst 45 percent to 42 percent among likely voters.

Grassley: "It’s my responsibility to evaluate the nominee"

As then-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley was instrumental in blocking then-President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the high court in the wake of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Under Grassley’s leadership, for 10 months no hearings were held, under the justification that the vacancy was too close to Election Day and the American people should have their say at the ballot box.

That effort, considered unprecedented in recent American history, ultimately handed President Trump his first of what may become three nominations to the nation’s highest court.

In a written statement released Monday, Grassley committed to carrying out what he termed his “responsibility” to vet Trump’s nominee. That’s a reversal of both his 2016 stance, and his recommendations from as recently as this July, when he told reporters if he were still chair, he would not fill a vacancy during an election year.

Still, he has maintained the choice should be the chair’s, now held by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“Over the years, and as recently as July, I’ve consistently said that taking up and evaluating a nominee in 2020 would be a decision for the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Majority Leader,” a written statement from Grassley reads in part. “Both have confirmed their intentions to move forward, so that’s what will happen. Once the hearings are underway, it’s my responsibility to evaluate the nominee on the merits, just as I always have.”

In explaining the tactical change from 2016, Grassley and other Republicans have argued that their confirmation this year is justified because the party holds both the Senate and the White House, unlike in 2016, when the branches were under divided government.

Iowa Democrats call out “hypocrisy”

The Iowa Democrat Party was quick to pounce on Ernst’s position Monday evening, releasing a written statement highlighting her previous stance defending the precedent upheld by Republicans to not confirm a nominee during an election year.

"Despite telling Iowans she holds the exact opposite position in 2016, Senator Ernst is shamelessly putting partisan politics first by rushing forward a lifetime appointment even as voters are just days away from being able to cast their ballot," reads a written statement from IDP Chair Mark Smith.

The party’s press release issued Monday night did not mention Grassley, who is not up for reelection this year.

Liberal organizers to pressure senators in Iowa, elsewhere

Earlier on Monday, a coalition of liberal political organizations pledged to pressure U.S. senators in key states to hold off on filling the vacancy left by Ginsburg.

The effort called “RBG Revolution” is led by the group ProgressNow, and will include state partner organizations in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado and Texas, among others, and aims to ensure a nominee isn’t confirmed until after the inauguration, while adding pressure on already-vulnerable Republican senators fighting to hold on to their seats.

“We are staffing up. There will be organizing staff capacity behind this effort. I know that in a number of states there will be advertising run,” said Matt Sinovic of Progress Iowa. “This is going to be a full scale campaign run in the states to target these senators.”

Echoing an argument made by Republicans four years ago, Sinovic said the American people should have their say at the ballot box, and that no nominee should be confirmed so close to Election Day.

“It’s a very different situation now, with only 40 plus days left in election season, as opposed to 10 months in 2016,” Sinovic said. “We should let the people decide who this Supreme Court nominee is.”

It’s an argument that the majority of the American public agrees with, according to recent polling conducted in the wake of Ginsburg’s death.

The national Ipsos/Reuters poll released on Sunday found that 62 percent of Americans agreed the vacancy should be filled by whoever wins on November 3.

According to the survey, 80 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans said the confirmation process should wait until after Election Day.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter