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Supreme Court Fight Enters New Phase as Garland Meets Senators

Image: Supreme Court Fight Enters New Phase as Garland Meets Senators
(AP)

Thursday, 17 Mar 2016 07:48 AM

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland will head to Capitol Hill Thursday for the first day of what will probably be a months-long campaign to pressure Republicans to consider his nomination.

As soon as President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the chief judge on the D.C. federal appeals court was his choice to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat, Senate Republicans insisted they wouldn't consider any nominee until a new president takes office. 

Democrats are hoping that the presence of Garland, who is likely to be a fixture in the Senate hallways over the coming weeks, will amp up pressure on Republicans to relent and give him a hearing — or pay a price at the ballot box in November.

Garland will meet Thursday with two leading Democrats — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Garland also plans to meet with Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, when the Senate returns from its two-week recess in April, the White House said.

Grassley reiterated Wednesday that he won't schedule hearings or votes on the nomination, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who spoke briefly with Garland Wednesday, refused to meet with him in person.

McConnell also repeated his pledge that the next president will fill the vacant Supreme Court seat.

"The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

The battle over Scalia's seat has the potential to shape the Supreme Court for a decade or two, and whoever is confirmed would be a pivotal vote on a number of divisive issues.

Under Pressure

Senate Democrats are betting that Republicans will begin to splinter and eventually cave under public pressure. In particular, they are eyeing several Republican senators who are facing tough re-election fights this fall.

Indeed, several Republicans said Wednesday they would agree to meet with Garland, while Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is facing a tough re-election battle, said the Senate should consider Garland's nomination. 

Democrats also pointed to remarks by Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, who said Wednesday lawmakers might consider confirming Garland after the election if Democrat Hillary Clinton wins the presidential contest.

"Republicans are backing down so quickly that they're already bargaining about what month they will fully cave and confirm Judge Garland," Reid said Wednesday in a statement.

"There is no question in my mind that Senator McConnell will back down from his position that the vacancy be filled by the 'next president.'"

Vulnerable Republicans

The party's campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has also been pummeling vulnerable Republicans in states won twice by Obama for their blanket opposition to any pick by the president.

Republicans running for re-election disagree on how to respond.

Kirk says he's willing to consider Garland. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are open to meeting with Garland, but back McConnell on taking no action.

Pat Toomey supports McConnell's position, as does Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who sent a fundraising email to his supporters touting the obstruction.

Several other Republicans told reporters they would agree to the courtesy calls, including Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona, which could make it tougher for other Republicans to avoid a meeting.

Democrats could even end up with a double benefit from the Garland pick: an issue ready-made to boost Democratic turnout by painting Republicans as partisan obstructionists in the fall, and confirmation in a lame-duck session after the election.

Garland Booster

Of all the Republicans, Hatch is probably in the most awkward situation, given that he had previously recommended to Obama that he choose Garland for earlier Supreme Court openings and said Wednesday he's open to confirming him once the election is over.

In 2010, Hatch called Garland "terrific" and predicted he could be confirmed "virtually unanimously."

Now, Hatch is singing a slightly different tune, saying that the current climate is too poisonous to consider any nominee.

"I'd probably be open to resolving this in a lame duck," Hatch told reporters in the Capitol Wednesday. "He's a good man, but he shouldn't be brought up in this toxic environment."

Collins, for her part, again called on the Senate to go through the process of vetting the nominee and holding a hearing. And she did wonder if a lame-duck confirmation could be the endgame.

"That may well be how it turns out," she said.

"The irony would be if Secretary Clinton wins, and this nominee, who is considered a centrist, is not considered, and we end up with a nominee who is far more liberal. That certainly would be an ironic outcome."

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U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland will head to Capitol Hill Thursday for the first day of what will probably be a months-long campaign to pressure Republicans to consider his nomination.
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Thursday, 17 Mar 2016 07:48 AM
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