WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama confronted Republican Senate leaders in the Oval Office Tuesday over their insistence that no Supreme Court nominee will be given consideration in the coming year.
But less than an hour after the session’s start, there was little evidence of progress toward reconciling the deeply entrenched positions on the vacancy.
“They were willing to meet with the President. They could at least meet with the President’s nominee, which looks like it should be coming very quickly. They were adamant. They said, ‘Nope,’ ” said Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid at the meeting’s conclusion. “All we want them to do is to fulfill their constitutional duty and do their jobs. At this stage they decided not to that. They’re going to wait and see what President Trump will do I guess.”
Obama was seen smiling at the start of the session with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley. Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and top Judiciary Committee Democrat Patrick Leahy also attended the meeting.
There was little expectation ahead of time that either side would budge.
McConnell, meeting with House Republicans Tuesday morning, reiterated his stance that the Senate Judiciary Committee would forgo hearings on Obama’s eventual nominee, and the full body won’t put a candidate up for a vote.
In an opinion article posted on the website SCOTUSBlog, Grassley wrote that this year’s presidential election should serve as a gauge for the court’s direction — which he said Obama could drastically alter if his pick is elevated to the court.
“The American people deserve the opportunity during this election year to weigh in on whether the next justice should apply the text and original meaning of the Constitution, or, alternatively, his or her own life experiences to changing times to advance his or her own sense of what would be ‘just decisions and fair outcomes,’ ” Grassley wrote, referencing Obama’s post to the same website last week detailing his criteria for a Supreme Court nominee.
The White House said Tuesday that Obama had no expectation before the session he could change Republicans’ minds.
“The meeting was pretty straightforward. No one represented that he was about to change his position on something,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said afterward, adding that Obama told Republicans he was willing to consider their suggestions for Supreme Court nominees.
“It’s up in the air about whether or not Republicans will follow through on their threat not to engage in their constitutional duties,” Earnest said. “Ultimately, they’ll have to decide their own course. I don’t expect that they’re going to change their minds just because I said so.”
As of Monday, Obama had not yet finalized a shortlist of potential nominees. He has spent time reviewing vast dossiers on potential candidates, including public writings and records, but has thus far kept his informal roster of candidates open to additions.
The White House said it was taking seriously the ostensible reason for Tuesday’s meeting, to consult lawmakers on potential selections for the court.
The discussion, however, was expected to center instead on governing precedent, with each side wielding historic examples to bolster their cause.
Aides said Obama would cite President Ronald Reagan’s comments from 1988, after two of his Supreme Court nominees failed to gain confirmation by the Senate.
“Every day that passes with the Supreme Court below full strength impairs the people’s business in that crucially important body,” Reagan said then.
Republicans, meanwhile, have cited Biden’s own remarks from 1992, when he said, “President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not — and not — name a nominee until after the November election is completed.”
Biden, who has said that Republicans misinterpreted his comments, explained his remarks in person Tuesday. Reid said the vice president read the complete speech during the Oval Office sitdown.
By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer