WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – And, so it begins. Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland paid his first official visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday after President Obama tapped him to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
Senators — Democrats, to be specific — greeted Garland on their own turf, the Capitol building, right across the street from the Supreme Court.
Garland’s future at the high court rests in the hands of a highly resistant Republican majority, firmly in power through the end of Mr. Obama’s term, so Democrats are aiming to outmaneuver their opponents in the optics department.
Undeterred by his long odds, the judge slapped on a smile and started his uphill congressional courtship climb.
Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals with 19 years on the federal bench, received a warm welcome from Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The judge showed up 10 minutes early to his first courtesy call, held in Leahy’s fourth-floor Capitol Hill office.
Leahy, the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, eagerly shook the judge’s hand and escorted him through a mass of flashing cameras.
“The [Supreme] Court would be a lot better off” with Garland, lauded Leahy as the two men sat side by side in wing chairs.
Two hours later, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered to open his doors to the nominee as well.
Reid has been a major advocate for Garland saying earlier Thursday that Republicans “will rue the day” they obstructed his nomination.
The opposing party’s upper-echelon has displayed a rather less enthusiastic response.
The Senate moves slowly — on a good day.
Garland’s moderate bona fides were hand-picked to bypass one of the lengthy fights that accompany highly partisan appointees.
His amiable, no-frills nature has earned the judge scores of fans in the nation’s capital, including several Senate Republicans during his 1997 confirmation process.
But this election season, likability and experience don’t go far.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke to Garland on the phone, but has already declined an in-person meeting and ruled out the possibility of a full up-or-down confirmation vote.
Vice President Biden responded, tweeting that he always supported nominees being granted a “meeting, committee vote, and floor vote. Period.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, quashed talk of confirmation hearings in his committee, but is now willing to meet with Garland, saying, “If I can meet with a dictator in Uganda, I can surely meet with a decent person in America.”
At least six GOP senators, from mostly purple states, have also expressed a willingness to sit down with the nominee. Those meetings would be added to the dozens of other courtesy calls Garland already has planned with Democrats.
Obama challenges Senate
In his remarks introducing Garland, Mr. Obama spoke directly to Republicans, imploring them:
I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up or down vote. If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair. It will mean everything is subject to the most partisan of politics — everything. It will provoke an endless cycle of more tit-for-tat, and make it increasingly impossible for any president, Democrat or Republican, to carry out their constitutional function. The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. Our democracy will ultimately suffer, as well.
The president also cited polls showing Americans expect the Senate to carry out a full and expedient confirmation process. According to the Washington Post, 63% of Americans want to see SCOTUS hearings.
Senators will recess for the next two weeks. Upon their return, the White House will be watching for any cracks in the conservative caucus, or evidence of the GOP’s united front holding firm.