Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) joined a growing chorus of conservative lawmakers calling on Senate Republicans to move ahead with a vote to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the November election.
“I think President Trump ought to do what President Obama did and nominate a replacement, I think President Trump has a constitutional obligation to do that. The Senate has a constitutional obligation to advise and consent,” Gaetz told Cheddar during a wide-ranging interview Monday.
Ginsburg, who served on the Supreme Court for 27 years, died from complications from pancreatic cancer on Friday. Only hours after the news broke, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put out a statement vowing to vote on President Trump’s yet-to-be-named Supreme Court nominee.
It’s quite the reversal for the conservative Senate, which in 2016 refused to vote on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland after conservative justice Antonin Scalia died eight months before the election.
In a video from 2016 that went viral over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has already said he is "dead set on confirming" President Donald Trump's nominee, was seen saying, “If there is a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination. And you can use my words against me, and you’d be absolutely right.”
At the time, McConnell similarly called for the incoming president to appoint a replacement justice. As it stands, the decision of whether or not to vote on a replacement will likely come down to only a handful of swing votes among Republican Senators. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) already expressed their opposition to the vote, according to The Washington Post.
“Frankly, I think the Senate should have taken a vote on Merrick Garland. If Mitch McConnell and the Republicans had reason to vote against him -- and I thought there were plenty -- they should have just voted, ‘no.’ I think it did set a bad precedent, what Republicans did in that circumstance,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz said he supports Barbara Lagoa, a Cuban-American appellate judge from Florida, for the role. She and Judge Amy Coney Barrett are reportedly on the shortlist for nomination, according to Time.
“In my conversations with the president as recently as yesterday, he is focused on a bold and exciting pick,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz also weighed in on TikTok, the controversial Chinese social media app that the president has targeted over security concerns, adding to escalating tensions with China. A threatened ban produced a tentative deal over the weekend that would have Walmart and Oracle taking minority stakes in a new, U.S.-run company. TikTok’s owner ByteDance rejected a previous bid from Microsoft.
“I am grateful that the move to Oracle seems to be a better national security fit than Microsoft. A lot of Microsoft’s artificial intelligence work and research and development is actually going on in China, so I worry about their close relationship with our enemies,” Gaetz said.
Microsoft faced criticism from the White House amid talks to buy TikTok. Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro accused Microsoft’s Bing and Skype as acting as “enablers of Chinese censorship, surveillance and monitoring” during an interview with Fox News in early August, Reuters reported.
Cannabis MORE Act
A vocal proponent of legal cannabis, Gaetz also expressed disappointment over a decision by House Democrats to postpone a vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Gaetz is the only Republican cosponsor of the bill, which seeks to decriminalize and deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, and contains provisions for expungement and resentencing of cannabis-related convictions.
“It’s really disappointing to me, as someone who has worked across the aisle on cannabis reform, to see Democrats abandon the effort, to walk off the field and say, ‘Eh, this is just something we’ll deal with after the election.’ Whether it's the Supreme Court or whether its marijuana reform, what's so hard about just doing our job?"
The MORE Act previously seemed like a win-win for Democrats that could demonstrate support for both social justice and for cannabis legalization, especially given the comparatively more conservative views of Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden. But attacks from Republicans like McConnell, alleging that Democrats were prioritizing cannabis over coronavirus relief, spooked some lawmakers with tough reelection bids in November, Politico reported.
Although Gaetz is the only Republican cosponsor in the House, the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support among voters, according to a recent poll from Data for Progress.