NATIONAL: Obama speaks out on his Constitutional role

Speaking at the Sunnylands resort in Rancho Mirage, a defiant President Barack Obama said today he intends to fulfill his Constitutional role and appoint an “indisputably” qualified nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he expects the Republican-controlled Senate to do its job and vote on it.

“I understand the stakes,” Obama said at the resort, where he wrapped up a two-day summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “I understand the pressure that Republican senators are undoubtedly under. … The issue here is that the court is now divided on many issues. This would be a deciding vote and there are a lot of Republican senators who are going to be under a lot of pressure from various special interests and various constituencies and many of their voters to not let any nominee go through, no matter who I nominated.

“But that’s not how the system is supposed to work. That’s not how our Democracy is supposed to work.”

Justice Antonin Scalia’s Saturday death immediately set off a firestorm of debate across the country, with Republican Senate leaders saying they would not hold hearings on a new justice until after the presidential election, and Democrats insisting the Constitution requires such hearings and a vote regardless of whether it’s an election year.

Obama drove that point home today, again referencing the Senate’s confirmation of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was nominated for the position by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 during his final year in office.

“There are a whole lot of Democrats who I’m sure did not agree with Justice Kennedy on his position on a variety of issues,” he said. “But they did the right thing. They confirmed him. If they voted against him, they certainly didn’t mount a filibuster to prevent a vote from even coming up.”

The president said the Constitution “is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now,” and there is no “unwritten law” that says appointments cannot be made and confirmed in election years.

“There is more than enough time for the Senate to consider in a thoughtful way the record of a nominee that I present and to make a decision,” he said, later adding: “I’m going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat and any fair-minded person — even somebody who disagreed with my politics — would say would serve with honor and integrity on the court.”

He said filling a seat on the Supreme Court is a duty that should rise above politics, and this will “be the opportunity for senators to do their job.”

“Your job doesn’t stop until you’re voted out or until your term expires,” Obama said. “I intend to do my job between now and January 20th of 2017, and I expect them to do their job as well.”

He noted, however, that obstructionism in the Republican-controlled Senate has become par for the course of late, with the Senate blocking 14 of his judicial nominations, all of whom were unanimously approved by the bipartisan Judiciary Committee.

“The fact that we’ve almost grown accustomed to a situation that is almost unprecedented where every nomination is contested — everything is blocked, regardless of how qualified the person is, even when there’s no ideological objection to it… The fact that it’s that hard, that we’re even discussing this is, I think, a measure of how, unfortunately, the venom and rancor in Washington has prevented us from getting basic work done. This would be a good moment for us to rise above that.”

Obama, who has been in the Coachella Valley since Friday, departed from Palm Springs International Airport this afternoon, wrapping up a weekend that saw him play golf with old friends then host the two-day Southeast Asian summit.

The summit was aimed at strengthening a new U.S.-ASEAN strategic partnership, forged last November during a presidential trip to Malaysia. The members of ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

“This unprecedented gathering — the first hosted by the United States with the ASEAN leaders — builds on the deeper partnership that the United States has forged with ASEAN since 2009 and will further advance the Administration’s rebalance to Asia and the Pacific,” according to a White House statement.

The meeting, which was also intended to drive progress on a Trans- Pacific Partnership trade agreement, was not without its detractors. Hundreds of protesters Monday lined the streets near Sunnylands, decrying the impact of increased globalization.

“While out-of-touch politicians discuss plans to ratify and even expand the TPP, working people in California and around the globe are uniting to defeat trade deals that … drive down wages and hurt the environment,” said Lua Masumi, state director for Citizens Trade Campaign.

“As a result of public anger, the TPP is already dead-on-arrival in Congress this year and the leading presidential candidates from both parties are also speaking out against it,” she said.

Representatives from organized labor and environmentalists also railed against the pact.

“The world cannot afford the TPP,” said Jacob Zehender of the Sierra Club of San Diego. “Beyond just failing to mention the term `climate change’ in its thousands of pages, the TPP would provide corporations with new tools for attacking environmental and consumer protections at home and abroad, while simultaneously increasing the export of fracked gas and other climate- disrupting fossil fuels.”

Air Force One landed at Palm Springs International Airport just after 11:30 a.m. Friday after being diverted briefly to fly over mountainous terrain that the president had just designated as national monuments.

Obama over three days played golf with Honolulu boyhood friends and frequent golf partners Greg Orme, Mike Ramos and Bobby Titcomb at the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, and Sunday at Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s private golf course at his 249-acre Rancho Mirage estate.

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