WASHINGTON - Democratic senators continue to press their Republican counterparts to hold confirmation hearings and vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, to fill the seat left vacant by the death of arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
“It’s the president’s duty, obligation and job [to nominate]," said Senator Al Franken after meeting Wednesday with Garland at his Capitol Hill offices. "Our job is to advise and give our consent, or not give our consent. And we should be doing that. We should be doing our job.”
Garland, the chief judge of the federal appellate court in the nation’s capital, also met with Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
"He is someone who is highly qualified. And I think it is the obligation of the Senate to not only have a hearing, but to vote on his nomination,” Gillibrand said.
The meetings came one day after Senator Mark Kirk became the first Republican to meet with Garland. Kirk bucked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans by calling for full consideration of the nomination. Most Republicans are unswayed.
"Democrats have no credibility in lecturing Republicans on how to conduct the current confirmation process,” wrote Republican Senator Orrin Hatch this week in an opinion piece for The New York Times. “Liberal pressure tactics belie any commitment to keeping politics out of the confirmation process.”
"Considering a nominee in the midst of a toxic presidential election would be irresponsible. Doing so would only further inject a circus atmosphere into an already politicized confirmation process,” Hatch added.
Kirk and 15 other Republicans have indicated a willingness to at least meet with Garland. Far fewer, however, have endorsed confirmation hearings or a vote.
"These [Republican] gestures of being open to meeting Garland seem largely to be just that - gestures,” said political analyst Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institution. "Although we may see a few more cracks, my sense is that the rest of the Senate Republican conference is standing firm.”
"This resolute opposition to Garland reflects both majority leader Mitch McConnell's short term calculus about retaining his position as GOP leader and about bucking up the far right to turn out for endangered GOP senators in blue states,” Binder said.
Even so, Democrats, who are in the minority and must rely on Republicans to advance a nominee, are continuing the fight, arguing against protracted delay in filling a Supreme Court vacancy.
“We shouldn’t go down that road,” said Franken. “It’s a bad precedent, and it’s bad for the Supreme Court. And it’s bad for the United States.”
“I think the American people are basically saying, ‘Give this guy a hearing,’” Franken noted.
Washington insiders say the standoff is unlikely to end anytime soon.
“Most people don’t know a lot about the Supreme Court,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “But the base of both parties do know how valuable this [fight] is and how important this is."
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