NBC Actually Grills WH Chief of Staff on Obama’s ‘Supreme’ Hypocrisy

In an interview with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Thursday, Today co-host Savannah Guthrie surprisingly held President Obama accountable for opposing Republican Supreme Court nominees in the past while calling on the GOP to approve his now.

After McDonough called on the Senate to “do its job” and allow a vote on Merrick Garland, Guthrie countered: “When it comes to these judicial nominations, perhaps neither side has clean hands entirely. Back when Senator Obama was in office he voted against Justice Robert's nomination and Justice Alito’s nomination. So is this a case of what’s good for the goose is what’s good for the gander? How does he explain that now?”

He claimed: “...in both of those cases not only did senators meet with and give a hearing to those candidates, but in fact, they voted on them. And that’s exactly the process that we’re asking for here.” Guthrie promptly corrected him: “But, Denis, President Obama voted to filibuster Justice Alito, which is another way of saying not bring him to the Senate floor for a full vote.”

McDonough argued that because that effort failed the President was off the hook: “Well, in fact, what they did have is a series of hearings and then they had a vote out of committee, then they had a debate on the Senate floor. That filibuster was stopped and he was voted on to the court. That's exactly the way – ”

Guthrie demanded: “So he doesn’t regret being part of that?” McDonough dodged the question.

Wrapping up the exchange, fellow co-host Matt Lauer wondered if the President had “one firm ally on the Republican side in the Senate that he feels will help him get this to a hearing and confirmation?”

McDonough couldn’t name one and Lauer pressed: “But does the President have a real firm ally on the Republican side?”

The presidential aide declared: “...we heard several, more than a handful of Republican senators agreeing to meet with him [Garland]. We think that’s a good start. But this is not rocket science, here, Matt. All they need to do is do what the Constitution says, give him a hearing, give him a vote, and let's fill that vacancy.”

Here is a full transcript of the March 17 interview:

7:06 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Denis McDonough is the White house chief of staff. Denis, good morning, thanks for being with us.

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Good morning, thanks for having me.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Supreme Court Showdown; White House Chief of Staff on Nomination Battle]

MATT LAUER: Denis, over the past 12 or 18 hours I’ve heard different people describe this nomination in extremely different ways. One theory is this is the President offering an olive branch to Republicans. Another is, this is the President saying, “I dare you to block this guy,” to Republicans. And the third is that the President is offering up a sacrificial lamb for an ugly political fight. Sort it out for me.

MCDONOUGH: Well, it’s none of those, Matt. In fact, what it is, is that the President ran a very detailed process and came up with a candidate who met a very simple qualification, namely excellence. Everybody that you talk to in legal circles, and frankly, as you look at the newspapers this morning, you cannot find a bad word said about Merrick Garland.

LAUER: So you’re saying that the president isn't telling Republicans, “I dare you to block this qualified judge”?

MCDONOUGH: I'm telling you that the President fulfilled his Constitutional responsibility to nominate someone for this vacancy. He did that by finding somebody with a proven track record of excellence, somebody who uniformly is described as a decent man, and somebody who has a fair-minded approach to understanding the law. So that's exactly who we found in this judge and we expect the Senate to now do its job.

GUTHRIE: When it comes to these judicial nominations, perhaps neither side has clean hands entirely. Back when Senator Obama was in office he voted against Justice Robert's nomination and Justice Alito’s nomination. So is this a case of what’s good for the goose is what’s good for the gander? How does he explain that now?

MCDONOUGH: Well, what’s interesting, Savannah, is in both of those cases not only did senators meet with and give a hearing to those candidates, but in fact, they voted on them. And that’s exactly the process that we’re asking for here.

GUTHRIE: But, Denis, President Obama voted to filibuster Justice Alito, which is another way of saying not bring him to the Senate floor for a full vote.

MCDONOUGH: Well, in fact, what they did have is a series of hearings and then they had a vote out of committee, then they had a debate on the Senate floor. That filibuster was stopped and he was voted on to the court. That's exactly the way –

GUTHRIE: So he doesn’t regret being part of that?

MCDONOUGH: That’s exactly the way the process should work, Savannah. That’s exactly what we hope will happen in this case. That’s exactly what the President called for yesterday. And we have a candidate here who has – is uniformly recognized, again, in the papers this morning and all day yesterday, somebody with unquestionable excellence and terrific experience.

LAUER: Real, real, quickly if you can, Denis, does the President have one firm ally on the Republican side in the Senate that he feels will help him get this to a hearing and confirmation?

MCDONOUGH: Well, we feel really good about the first day of this out of the announcement yesterday. We heard many, more than a handful of Republicans now changing their position and being willing to meet with Judge Garland –

LAUER: But does the President have a real firm ally on the Republican side?

MCDONOUGH: Again, what I said is that yesterday we heard several, more than a handful of Republican senators agreeing to meet with him. We think that’s a good start. But this is not rocket science, here, Matt. All they need to do is do what the Constitution says, give him a hearing, give him a vote, and let's fill that vacancy.

GUTHRIE: Alright, chief of staff Denis McDonough, thanks for getting up early with us. We appreciate it.

LAUER: Thanks, Denis.

MCDONOUGH: Thanks, guys. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC