Dem Sen. Doug Jones: Will Take "Independent Look" At Trump SCOTUS Nominee, Open To Voting Yes

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DANA BASH, CNN 'STATE OF THE UNION' GUEST HOST: Let's start with the president's impending announcement to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. The president said he has narrowed the field down to four and will announce tomorrow night.

Now, the question for you, sir, is, as you represent an incredibly red state, Donald Trump won 62 percent of the vote in Alabama, do you feel a responsibility to give your constituents what they voted for?

SEN. DOUG JONES (D-AL): Well, I feel a responsibility to my constituents, but I also feel a responsibility to the Constitution.





You know, the Constitution gives the Senate a shared responsibility with the president to confirm nominees. And our founders, you know, put that in there for a reason, because judges have life tenure. And so that shared responsibility is important. And I take that very seriously.

So we're going to give -- whoever the nominee is going to be, we're going to give them a very, very good, hard and fair look to determine what I believe to be the best interest of my constituents, but also the country.

BASH: So, to be clear, you are open to voting yes for whomever the president nominates?

JONES: Oh, I'm open to voting yes. I'm open to voting no.

We don't know who this nominee is going to be yet. I don't think my role is a rubber stamp for the president, but it's also not an automatic, knee-jerk no either.

My job is to exercise that independent voice. I want to look for a judge that has the intellect and capacity to do the right thing, to follow the rule of law, to adhere to precedents, and move the country forward. And I think that that's the best role.

BASH: And just to put some context around this, Neil Gorsuch, the president's first nominee for the Supreme Court, got three Democratic votes. You weren't in the Senate then. But you come from a more Republican state than those Democratic senators. Hard to imagine you voting no. Fair?

JONES: Well, no, I don't think that that's fair one way or another, Dana.

I think that I have got to look at this nominee. I'm going to make an independent judgment. I -- that's my job. I come from a place with a former senator in Howell Heflin, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

He understood the role of the Senate as -- with that shared responsibility. And I'm going to look. I'm going to make an independent judgment and a view. I don't think anyone should expect me to simply vote yes for this nominee just simply because my state may be more conservative than others.

I want to make an independent look at this, because I think, you know, even the people of Alabama like to make sure they have judges that adhere to the rule of law.

BASH: And, at the same time, just the fact that you're open to voting yes sets you apart from the vast majority of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

Listen to how some of them have described the implication of this decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: He's looking for a nominee who will criminalize abortion and try to punish women.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: All of the advances that we have made over the years are now increasingly in danger.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: We're looking at a destruction of the Constitution of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Destruction of the Constitution, do you agree that that's what's going on here?

JONES: Look, I think that this is a very important nominee, for sure.

And I am concerned about this nomination. And I'm concerned about the direction that the court will take. And I don't want to see things change radically. And I think there are some legitimate concerns.

That's what I'm going to look at. That doesn't mean I'm going to vote yes. It doesn't mean I'm going to vote no. I think it's premature to say automatically -- I'm not going to say automatically that I'm going to vote against any nominee that Donald Trump put out there. That's just not my role.

But I'm not going to automatically vote for them either. I want to take a good, long look. We're -- we have got a long way to go with whoever this nominee is going to be.

BASH: Is it appropriate for your Democratic colleagues to be doing just that, saying no before the nominee is out there?

JONES: Well, I would -- you know, Dana, I would prefer that they don't do that.

I would prefer that Republicans don't say they're going to automatically vote for someone. The problem that we have got in this country right now is that we have such a partisan divide, and particularly on Supreme Court nominees. It has become so political.

I was watching this morning. They're already running TV ads in favor of a nominee that's not being selected. This has become a political issue, as opposed to an independent judiciary. And that's not a good thing.

BASH: And it's become political.

And on the politics, it's a question of fairness for a lot of your fellow Democrats.

Your leader, Chuck Schumer, says there shouldn't be a vote this year in 2019 because Republicans refused to confirm Merrick Garland during an election -- or that was a presidential election year. This is a midterm election year. But is that the right strategy?

JONES: I don't think that that strategy is going to work regardless, whether it's the right or the wrong strategy.

I think that the -- Senator McConnell is going to proceed with this nomination. As he proceeds, there is very little that Democrats can do procedurally.

But it's also going to depend on the nominee. If this nominee requires a greater, deep dive into their background, it's going to take some time. So, I think it's going to be really dependent on the nominee and the investigation that is going to go on by both a majority and minority in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then for individual senators to meet.

I want to make sure that I get a chance to meet with this nominee before I pass judgment on them.

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