That Biden Speech

The GOP has it backwards

Michael Markman
Feb 24, 2016 · 3 min read
Senator Joe Biden, June 25, 1992

Let’s be very clear that when Sen. Mitch McConnell is flim-flamming and bamboozling when cites a 1992 speech by Joe Biden to justify the GOP’s refusal to even meet with anyone that Pres. Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. Biden advocated the very opposite of what McConnell and his party are committing to. I’ll list a few ways Biden’s proposal differs from McConnell’s action, but let’s start with the most significant:

Joe Biden wanted to take the Supreme-Court nomination out of politics, while Mitch McConnell is smothering it in politics. Biden didn’t pretend the sitting president (George H. W. Bush) had no right to nominate. Biden fully expected the current president to make the nomination and the current Senate to take it up. What he advocated was waiting until after the election (the lame-duck session). McConnell, by contrast, said wait for a new president and a new Senate. McConnell’s action forces the issue of the Supreme into the heart of the campaign. Biden sought to remove it. Biden specifically urged that the White House and Senate “work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended.”

Let’s look at the other differences.

Hypothetical, not real.

When Biden made his speech, the Court was at full strength. There was no vacancy. He said if by chance a vacancy occurred, it would be better to wait until the election to fill it. And specifically, he said if a vacancy occurred after the term of the court and during the general election campaign.


Biden spoke in late June, three weeks before the Democratic National Convention that year and at the end of a Supreme Court term. The primaries were over and it was clear the Bill Clinton would be the nominee for the Democrats and George H. W. Bush would be the Republican nominee. In other words, Biden was asking for, at most, a four-month delay. It could only be as long as that if one of the Justices resigned immediately. And the replacement would be in place early in the Court’s next term. But remember, this was all hypothetical. By contrast, McConnell announced his intention to obstruct in mid-February, guaranteeing a vacancy on the court for at least the next eleven months — covering two terms of the court.

The rest of Biden’s speech

Did you know that then-Senator Biden spoke on the topic for nearly an hour and a half? Did you know that his speech was a carefully prepared, fully researched address about reforming the process of selecting justices for the Supreme Court? It was not about a power-grab. The bit about waiting until after the election was yanked entirely out of that context. The point of his speech was that in a divided government compromise is necessary, not that compromise is impossible.

You can listen to the full speech here:

Michael Markman

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