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Obama Steadfast on Court Pick, Defends Clinton on Emails

President calls U.S. 'envy of the world' in contrast to GOP candidates

President Obama warns that Republicans could change judicial confirmation rules forever. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
President Obama warns that Republicans could change judicial confirmation rules forever. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama reiterated Sunday that he will keep his nomination of Merrick Garland active until his final day in office, warning that Senate Republicans are threatening to change judicial confirmation rules forever.  

Obama also appeared to weigh in on the Justice Department’s probe of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state — even as he stressed he had to be careful not to do so.  

On the Supreme Court pick, Obama forcefully replied “yes” when asked on “Fox News Sunday” if he plans to keep Garland’s nomination alive until Jan. 20, his last day in office, and then “absolutely not” when asked if he would pull the nomination.  

The president used a rare appearance on a Sunday morning political talk show to again press Senate Republicans into reversing course and giving the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit a hearing before the Judiciary Committee and a vote.  

“If they do that, then the American people and a majority of the senators will determine, in fact, that he’s qualified to be on the court,” the president said.  

Obama warned that Republican senators’ decision to delay the appointment until a new president takes office could alter the chamber’s handling of Supreme Court and other judicial nominations forever. That’s because Democrats could use the same blockade approach to scuttle any nominations submitted by a future GOP chief executive.  

“If that happens … it is almost impossible to expect that the Democrats, let’s say a Republican president [candidate] won … wouldn’t say the same thing: Let’s wait for four years and we’ll take our chances on the next president,” Obama said in the interview, taped Thursday at the University of Chicago.  

He used Democrats’ collective slogan that the Senate must “do its job,” and dropped a favorite White House line that the chamber should “treat him (Garland) fairly.”  

As a growing list of GOP senators meet one-on-one with the nominee, Obama said “the questioning that they’re having privately with Judge Garland is something that should be done publicly” during Judiciary Committee hearings.  

He also continued to play a long game on the nomination, stating his belief that “things will evolve” as Garland’s judicial record becomes more widely publicized.  

But that could require an actual confirmation hearing, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, are not backing away from their pledge against holding hearings and floor votes.  

The interview also covered the controversy over Clinton’s use of a private server for her email, which has spurred a federal investigation. Obama stressed to host Chris Wallace that he was not interfering or conferring with the Justice Department on the probe.  

“I can guarantee that,” Obama said when asked if the Justice Department would treat Clinton like any other citizen during its probe. “Nobody gets treated differently when it comes to the Justice Department because nobody is above the law,” the president told Fox.  

He defended Clinton, saying she “would never intentionally put American in any kind of jeopardy,” and praised her as having been a strong chief diplomat during his first term.  

“And what I also know, because I handle a lot of classified information, is that there are — there’s classified and then there’s classified. There’s stuff that is really top secret, top secret and then there is stuff that … basically stuff that you can get in open source.”  

The Republican National Committee scoffed at Obama’s defense, saying in a blog post released Sunday, “the president twisted himself into a pretzel spinning his former secretary of state’s mishandling of classified material saying, ‘there’s classified and then there’s classified’ before conceding that her behavior was careless.”  

During the interview, Obama criticized, without naming them, GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz for their plans to fight terrorism. He said Cruz’s calls to carpet bomb Islamic State forces would not be “productive,” and called Trump’s calls to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. “not a good approach.”  

Obama also defended his strategy for defeating the Islamic State, arguing “there isn’t a president who’s taken more terrorists off the field in the last seven years.”  

While some critics, including GOP members and presidential candidates, have accusing him of failing to take the terrorism threat seriously, he said his administration has been “doing it effectively.” Obama described his belief that U.S. presidents should portray an image of a commander in chief who fights against terrorists’ desire to change western societies.  

He said Americans should respond to attacks by vowing to “go to a ballgame and do all of the things that make our lives worthwhile,” while its leaders should make clear to violent extremists “we will hunt you down and we will get you.”  

In a candid exchange with Wallace, Obama called staving off a second “Great Depression” his biggest accomplishment. His biggest mistake, he added, was “failing to plan for the day after” Moammar Gadhafi’s fall in Libya.  

And in a stark contrast to the campaign-trail messages of Trump, Cruz and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Obama struck a resoundingly optimistic tone about the United States and its standing in the world.  

The 21st century, like the 20th, “can be our century … as long as we don’t tear each other apart because our politics values sensationalism or conflict over cooperation [and] we don’t have the ability to compromise,” Obama said. “If we get that part right, nobody can stop us.”  

Contact Bennett at Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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