Nov. 4, 2016 12:03 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON—Some Republicans in the final weeks of a bitter, volatile election have indicated that if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton becomes president, she would face potentially unprecedented resistance on Capitol Hill.
Several Senate Republicans have suggested recently that they might try to block Clinton nominees to the Supreme Court for as long as four years. Separately, Republicans in both chambers have said that they would press for more answers about her use of a private email server and would consider impeaching her as president.
The comments—all coming before the outcome of the election is known—underscore the deeply partisan environment that Mrs. Clinton would immediately encounter in Washington over her agenda, straining her ability to work with Congress on policy prioritiessuch as an immigration overhaul and tax changes.
A Republican move to block indefinitely any Clinton Supreme Court nominees—raised as a possibility by at least four GOP senators recently—would extend a blockade on any Democratic high-court pick that has effectively been in place since February, when Justice Antonin Scalia died. Republicans have declined to act on Judge Merrick Garland,whom President Barack Obama tapped in March, saying the next president should select Justice Scalia’s successor.
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“If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), locked in a tight re-election race, said in a recording made public by CNN this past week. Mr. Burr later said in a statement Tuesday he would “assess the record of any Supreme Court nominee” while noting that Mrs. Clinton in the past had backed judges he opposed for ideological reasons.
Other senators who said they might oppose Clinton nominees include John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who last week said there is a “long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices.”
The longest vacancy on the high court since 1791 lasted 835 days, according to the Congressional Research Service, when President John Tyler clashed with the Whig Party, which then controlled the Senate and had expelled Tyler from the party. Since 1900, the average Supreme Court vacancy has lasted 58 days, excluding the current opening.
Not all Republicans are taking the same tone. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, said that if he remains in the panel’s top post next year, it would consider a nominee from Mrs. Clinton.
“We have a responsibility to very definitely vet,” Mr. Grassley said during a conference call with Iowa radio reporters last month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) hasn’t indicated how he would proceed.
The U.S. Constitution sets out that the president nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate gives its “advice and consent” on appointing them.
Much depends on which party wins control of the Senate on Tuesday. If Republicans retain control, they could prevent any nominee from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.
If Democrats recapture a Senate majority, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, expected to be the party’s Senate leader, could face a decision on whether to lower the vote threshold needed to confirm Supreme Court nominees. Democrats already changed the chamber’s rules in November 2013 to allow them to confirm most other executive and judicial nominees with a simple majority, rather than 60 votes in the 100-member chamber generally needed.
“I set the precedent for changing the rules, and it will take five minutes for Sen. Schumer to do the same thing,” retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said last week. Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, has predicted Democrats would change the chamber’s rules if they regain its majority.
Meanwhile, Republicans have also indicated they don’t intend to ease up on probes of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey told lawmakers last week that investigators are reviewing new emails that might be relevant to its previously completed inquiry of Mrs. Clinton.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said Wednesday on Fox News that investigation would continue regardless of whether Mrs. Clinton wins and if “it looks like an indictment is pending, at that point in time, under the Constitution, the House of Representatives would engage in an impeachment trial.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), who is in a tough re-election fight, also said Mrs. Clinton’s actions could lead to impeachment.
Democrats said Republicans were intent on trying to obstruct Mrs. Clinton at every turn.
“In addition to there being no grounds for impeachment to begin with, moving to impeach President Hillary Clinton for alleged activities from before the election would be a brazen attempt to nullify the vote of the American people,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Thursday.
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