WASHINGTON — During a brief meeting Tuesday with key senators including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, President Barack Obama said he would consider suggestions from the Republicans for filling a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court, but a participant said neither Grassley or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mentioned any names.
The short White House meeting punctuated efforts by opposing sides in the standoff to cast the replacement of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 13, as either an obstinate Senate refusing to do its job or a president willing to ignore the voice of the people in an election year.
The meeting between Obama and four top senators — Republicans Grassley and McConnell and Democrats Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, and Sen. Patrick Leahy — did nothing to resolve the standoff.
Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that would hold hearings on any pick by the president, has said he wouldn’t consider any Obama choice, regardless of who that is.
The White House said Obama, who has about 10 months left in his term. intends to nominate a replacement soon anyway.
If nothing else, the meeting provided a pause in the efforts to sway public opinion — and votes. But those efforts resumed as soon as the meeting broke up.
“Whether everybody in the meeting today wanted to admit it, we all know that considering a nomination in the middle of a heated presidential campaign is bad for the nominee, bad for the court, bad for the process, and ultimately bad for the nation,” Grassley said in a statement. “It’s time for the people to voice their opinion about the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system of government.”
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Reid, who in an earlier Senate floor speech cast Grassley as a failed leader of the judiciary committee, said the Republicans only dug in their heels at the meeting.
“They think they are going to wait and see what President Trump will do, I guess as far as the nomination is concerned,” Reid said, referring to Donald Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner. “We are going to continue beating the drums. All we want them to do is fulfill their constitutional duty and do their job.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed the president solicited names from Grassley and McConnell. Reid told reporters the two offered no suggestions.
“The president did say that he would take seriously any names that they wanted to put forward,” Earnest said. “If they want to come back to the Oval Office, I am confident we could arrange a meeting.”
The struggle over the Supreme Court vacancy, which could tip the balance of power on a court in which remaining members are divided evenly between liberals and conservatives, is shaping up as Washington’s biggest battle of the year.
McConnell met with House Republicans on Tuesday morning before going to the White House, and told them that he would continue to ignore any Obama nominee, “making it crystal clear that it would be the next president” who makes the choice, Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said in an interview.
In his statement after the White House meeting, Grassley asserted the court has grown out of sync with public opinion.
“There’s a growing feeling of isolation among a lot of Americans who feel left out by political elites. Executive orders and liberal courts are trampling on religious liberty and property ownership, for example, and snubbing the rule of law and endangering the right to keep and bear arms,” his statement said. “The executive branch is actively using the judicial branch of government to get around Congress and undermine the process of representative government.”
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Grassley, who is up for election this year but is both popular and well-known in Iowa, occupies a central role in what is perhaps Obama’s last big fight with Congress.
Top Democrats believe he can be shamed into at least convening a hearing on the eventual nominee.
But several GOP senators said they’re confident Grassley would hold fast.
“Do you know Chuck Grassley?” asked Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a Judiciary Committee member. “When he gets on a principle, he’s like a bulldog with a bone.”
The Washington Post, Bloomberg News and Reuters contributed to this report.