Washington (CBS) — Vice President Mike Pence defended President Trump’s push to confirm a new justice to the Supreme Court before Election Day, telling “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell in an exclusive interview that moving forward with a confirmation during an election year is not without precedent and the president has an “obligation” to put forth a nominee.
“President Trump believes that he has an obligation under the Constitution of the United States to put forward a nominee for the Supreme Court,” Pence said.
“There have been 29 times that there have been vacancies since George Washington through Barack Obama. In all 29 cases, the president has made a nomination to the Supreme Court during an election year,” he continued. “And President Trump believes that it’s his responsibility and his duty to do that again.”
A 2017 report by the Congressional Research Service found 13 instances of Supreme Court seats becoming vacant before Election Day during election years since 1791. In nine of those instances, presidents submitted nominees to fill the seat before the election. Ginsburg’s death 46 days before Election Day is the second-shortest amount of time between a seat becoming vacant and an election, behind only Chief Justice Roger Taney’s death in October 1864.
Judges Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the leading contenders for the nomination, met with Mr. Trump at the White House on Monday, a source close to the president told CBS News. Pence hailed Barrett and the other finalists, saying the president “has made it clear that it’s our objective to appoint pro-life jurists to our federal courts at every level.”
“What I’m convinced of is that Judge Barrett and the other finalists on the list will interpret the Constitution in a way that’s consistent with the great tradition of Justice Antonin Scalia,” Pence said.
Ginsburg died Friday at the age of 87 from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, and Mr. Trump is urging the Senate to quickly take up his nominee, to be announced in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged Mr. Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the Senate floor, and Senator Lindsey Graham, who leads the Judiciary Committee, told the panel’s Democratic members on Monday that he believes it is “important that we proceed expeditiously to process any nomination made by President Trump to fill this vacancy.”
While Senate Democrats have few procedural tools at their disposal to block Republicans’ efforts to move forward with the confirmation process, they are urging their GOP colleagues to wait until after the inauguration before confirming a justice to fill Ginsburg’ seat.
Democrats point to Republicans’ decision in 2016 to block Judge Merrick Garland’s confirmation to the Supreme Court after the death of Scalia, as GOP senators argued at the time the American people should have a voice in selecting the president that will fill the vacancy.
But McConnell said the situation this year differs from that of 2016, as the same party now controls the White House and the Senate.
Mr. Trump told reporters he is considering five women to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. His top contenders are Barrett and Barbara Lagoa of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
NORAH O’DONNELL: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for your time.
MIKE PENCE: Thank you, Norah. Welcome to the White House.
The president said he wants this done very quickly, before Election Day. Can it be done?
We believe that it can. But obviously it’ll be important for us to take time to pay tribute this week to a true public servant. We join the nation in mourning the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She paved the way for women in the law.
But I know the president is anxious to move the process forward. And we fully expect to make an announcement about the president’s nominee to the Supreme Court before the week is out.
You’re saying that you have an agreement from the Senate majority leader to get a justice confirmed by Election Day?
President Trump believes that he has an obligation under the Constitution of the United States to put forward a nominee for the Supreme Court.
There have been 29 times that there have been vacancies since George Washington through Barack Obama. In all 29 cases the president has made a nomination to the Supreme Court during an election year. And President Trump believes that it’s his responsibility and his duty to do that again.
I want to ask you about one of the front runners, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. She’s a Catholic. She’s a conservative. She’s the mother of seven kids. Are you convinced that Judge Barrett would overturn Roe versus Wade?
What I’m convinced of is that Judge Barrett and the other finalists on the list will interpret the Constitution in a way that’s consistent with the great tradition of Justice Antonin Scalia.
President Trump has made it clear that it’s our objective to appoint pro-life jurists to our federal courts at every level.
Judge Barrett gave a speech at Notre Dame on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and she said it’s very unlikely that the court will overturn Roe. So why are you convinced that Judge Barrett would restrict abortion rights further?
I just know that Judge Barrett will follow the Constitution as will all the finalists.
The reality is that the Supreme Court in this last session actually rejected a very moderate restriction on abortion from Louisiana, a bill that would only have required doctors in abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at neighboring hospitals.
And on that case, you believe that someone like Judge Barrett would respect states’ rights on that issue?
I’m proud to serve alongside the most pro-life president in American history. And I know that same standard will be met with his nominee to fill this vacancy on the Supreme Court.
One week after the election, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case on the Affordable Care Act. Do you want a justice who will help strike down the Affordable Care Act?
Well, we’ve long believed that the individual mandate at the center of Obamacare was unconstitutional.
Twenty years ago was Bush v. Gore. It went to the Supreme Court. This year, we could have another presidential election that could go to the Supreme Court. Is that why it’s so important to have President Trump’s choice confirmed before Election Day?
Well, there are many issues that could go before the court.
But in the event that questions either regarding mail-in voting or regarding the outcome of the election go to the Supreme Court, it’s just one more reason why we owe it to the American people, that we owe it to all the institutions of government, to ensure that we have nine justices on the Supreme Court of the United States.