WASHINGTON — Senior White House officials were optimistic Friday about the odds of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland being confirmed to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are holding firm in their stance that they will not allow a vote or hearing for the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But Obama’s top aides continue saying publicly they believe the GOP wall will eventually crumble, giving Obama a third appointed justice.
“We think we’ve got a good chance,” to get Garland on the high court, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said Friday morning at an event sponsored by Politico.
When a moderator asked Eggleston and Brian Deese, a special adviser to Obama, if they believe Garland ultimately will be confirmed, they replied in the affirmative.
“We feel very good that Judge Garland will be on the Supreme Court,” Deese said.
The duo also previewed the White House’s next move in its public push to put pressure on Senate Republicans, with Deese promising Obama and other top administration officials will be “aggressive.”
As part of that campaign, Obama will travel to the University of Chicago on Thursday to discuss the Garland nomination.
A big part of Obama’s message will be for “people to be fair,” Deese said, referring to Senate Republicans.
The White House believes that large numbers of the American people believe giving Garland one-on-one meetings and confirmation hearings to determine his qualifications for the high court is the only fair move.
Several prominent public opinion polls appear to support this, including a CNN-ORC International survey that found 52 percent of Americans believe Garland should be confirmed. White House officials believe that number would climb if the longtime federal judge were in front of television cameras for what could be days-long confirmation hearings.
The administration also intends to maintain pressure on Senate Republicans, especially moderates and those facing tight re-election bids, to at least meet with Garland.
One GOP moderate, Susan Collins of Maine, announced Friday she will meet with the nominee at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Room 401 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
The White House has commitments from “16 or 17″ Republican senators to meet with Garland about his Supreme Court nomination, Deese said. Garland “is taking this process very seriously,” Deese said, noting he is preparing “hard” for one-on-one meetings with senators and possible confirmation hearings.
The duo also provided a few more details of how the president and his team went about selecting Garland, whom he had considered twice before.
“I want to pick the best person to be on the Supreme Court,” Obama told his advisers during the first White House meeting, according to Eggleston.
“We didn’t think of it as a political game,” he said, adding Obama wanted to “play it straight.”
Another tack the White House already is using to pressure Senate Republicans is the current 4-4 split of liberal and conservative justices. They said one of the key functions of the Supreme Court is to put an end to lower-court disputes on federal laws.
“That’s one of the things the [Supreme Court] is there to preclude and keep from happening,” Eggleston said. “A lot of people focus on hot-button cases, but a lot of what the court does is … that kind of blocking and tackling.”
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