REGIONAL—As Amy Coney Barrett gets closer to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, Chuck Grassley said it’s not hypocritical to appoint her during an election year after making the counter-argument four years prior.

Iowa’s senior senator was head of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016 and refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland.

Garland was then-President Barack Obama’s choice to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February of that year.

Scalia’s seat was eventually succeeded by Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by Republican President Donald Trump after taking office in 2017.

Grassley, a Republican, told a crowd during a town hall forum in 2016 in Ocheyedan that his refusal to give Garland, nominated by a Democratic president, was not political in nature.

“When a president knows that there are not enough votes in the United States Senate to not pass this year — his nominee — that, that politicizes it,” Grassley said at the time.

His office also issued a statement after the nomination was announced that said, “The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.”

During a Tuesday, Oct. 13, press call with The REVIEW, Grassley said there is historical precedent for giving Barrett, Trump’s nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who died in September, a hearing.

“The difference between 2016 and 2020 is this: We had a divided government — president of one party and a Senate of another party — and that was McConnell’s reason for not bringing it up,” Grassley said referring to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Only once in more than a century has that happened, that a person was put on the Supreme Court and that was Grover Cleveland — in 1888 he did that — he was a Democrat, the Senate was Republican.”

Grassley went on to say the makeup of the government in 2020 is not divided as Republicans control the Senate and the executive branch.

The seven-term senator noted he took a lot of heat in 2016 over his refusal to hold a hearing and said he chose not to hold one “for whatever reason you want to give.”

“As I was traveling to all my county meetings for a Q&A, I was castigated by my opponents for not holding a hearing and Garland should have had a hearing and etcetera, etcetera,” Grassley.

“Then they asked me if I was chairman of the committee, under like circumstances, in 2020 would I hold a hearing. Several times in 2016 and even in 2020 I said, ‘No, I wouldn’t hold a hearing if I was chairman of the committee,’ but I’m not chairman of the committee.”

Grassley gave up the gavel to the judiciary committee to chair the finance committee, so he said his previous comments about not holding a hearing do not apply to him. Fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina now chairs judiciary.

“Graham’s chairman of the committee and he wants to move ahead,” Grassley said.

“I’m a member of the committee and the people of Iowa expect me to do my job and if the chairman of the committee calls a committee meeting I should be there, so that’s why I’m participating in this process.”

Masking

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Iowa, especially in the northwest and southwest corners of the state, Grassley was asked if he would recommend Gov. Kim Reynolds institute a mask mandate.

Grassley said he will not make any recommendations to the governor, but said he tries to abide by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention such as hand-washing for 20 seconds with soap and water and masking up when around people.

“I don’t need to repeat all those things you’re supposed to do,” he said. “I would advise people — whether it’s a mandate or not — wear a mask, it makes a big difference.”

Grassley said he hears arguments from people who say masks are ineffective and from others who think they are the perfect solution for slowing the spread of the respiratory virus.

“I kind of do it like I do politics and policy: You may not know something you are doing is going to do any good but if there’s no known negatives, you ought to do it,” Grassley said. “As far as I’m concerned there’s no known negatives against wearing a mask.

“So if you want to take advice from me instead of me giving advice to the governor, tell your people I say they should wear a mask and I’m doing it.”