The leaders of the conservative legal groups that will lead the charge against the Senate consideration of Merrick Garland downplayed early hints Wednesday that Senate Republicans might be giving ground in their absolute opposition to anyone President Obama would have nominated.
Soon after President Obama’s announced that Garland was his Supreme Court nominee to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a smattering of Senate Republicans expressed publicly a willingness to meet with him, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) suggested an openness to confirming Garland in a lame duck session after the November election if a Democrat wins the White House.
Did those shifting political dynamics with the nomination of a 63-year-old, well-regarded moderate worry outside conservative groups?
“Senators hold all sorts of meetings with all sorts of people,” Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said on a press call Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t think that the fact that some senators are willing to meet with Merrick Garland means anything. The key is for the senators to hold the line on no hearing or no floor vote.”
Whelan also took no issue with the Senate proceeding with Garland’s nomination after the election if the Democrat won the presidency, as Hatch had suggested.
“Obviously, If Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is elected president in November, the Senate could then proceed to act on Merrick Garlands’s nomination,” Whelan said. “But given how transformative this nomination would be of the court in a very contentious election year, I think the Senate Republicans are entirely right to draw the line they have drawn, and they should adhere to it. I think they’ve made clear that they are going to.”
(Whelan and his colleagues on the press call, Judicial Crisis Network policy director Carrie Severino and America Rising Squared executive director Brian Rodgers insisted Garland was a liberal.)
According to NPR, Republicans sent some backchannel communications to the White House suggesting they would be willing to confirm Garland in a lame-duck session if a Democrat won the presidency. Some Republican Senators told reporters on the Hill Wednesday that they would indeed consider Garland after the election if Democrats prevailed, while others objected to the scenario.
Additionally, the openness some GOP Senators — such as Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Kelly Ayotte (R-IL) — have expressed to meeting Garland when he visits Capitol Hill this week cuts against GOP leaders’ initial stance before the nominee was announced that there was no point to giving him or her a meeting. The White House has taken Wednesday’s waffling on the position as a sign that GOP support for the full-on blockade of Garland is eroding.
“I am old enough to remember a few weeks ago when Republicans said uniformly they wouldn’t even meet with our nominee,” Brian Deese — the White House aide who led the efforts a select a nominee — told reporters on a press call Wednesday. ” And just in the past hour since the president announced him in the Rose Garden we’ve seen more than a handful of Republicans announce that they were willing to meet with our nominee.”