How Obama Is Hoping to Crack the GOP’s Supreme Court Blockade
Policy + Politics

How Obama Is Hoping to Crack the GOP’s Supreme Court Blockade

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Obama on Wednesday showed he won’t be backed into a corner by Senate Republican leaders who have vowed to ignore his nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, teasing the idea of naming a sitting a GOP governor and doggedly outlining the principle that will guide his choice.

Citing unnamed sources, The Washington Post reported that the White House is vetting Republican Governor Brian Sandoval from Nevada to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly on February 13.

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Sandoval, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the federal bench in 2005 and has said he would be open to being selected, met with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Monday to talk about the high court’s vacancy.

"I don't pick the justices, but I know if he were picked, I would support the man," Reid told CNN.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t comment on whether the administration is indeed vetting the governor.

“I suspect it is only the first of many stores that speculation on potential Supreme Court nominees," Earnest told reporters during a Wednesday press briefing.

Choosing Sandoval, who is widely viewed as a moderate Republican, might be the best way for Obama to thread the needle and get a nominee through a united GOP Senate that has promised to shun any nominee the incumbent president puts forward. They’ve even refused to meet one-on-one with any candidate, the first step in the confirmation process.

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Even if the White House isn’t serious about Sandoval, floating his name as a trial balloon is a shrewd attempt to ramp up pressure on Republicans – who have turned the Supreme Court vacancy into a campaign issue – and in the process, painted the GOP as unreasonable and obstructionist.

The Republicans did get a boost this week for their plan to wait until the election when The New York Times revealed that in 1992, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joe Biden, argued that there should be a different standard for a Supreme Court vacancy “that would occur in the full throes of an election year.” The president should follow the example of “a majority of his predecessors” and delay naming a replacement, Biden said.

If Republicans don’t budge, it costs the White House nothing in political capital, and the administration can just leak another name for Scalia’s chair.

News that Sandoval is being looked at was a strategic political maneuver by the White House, coming the same day Obama articulated the three qualities he’s looking for in a Supreme Court nominee and signaled that he’s going to move forward, despite Republican objections.

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First, he published a blog post Wednesday morning on SCOTUSblog, a Supreme Court news site, declaring that filling the vacancy “isn’t something I take lightly.”

"A sterling record. A deep respect for the judiciary’s role. An understanding of the way the world really works. That’s what I’m considering as I fulfill my constitutional duty to appoint a judge to our highest court,” Obama wrote.

Speaking to reporters after an Oval Office meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, the president said it was his “hope and expectation” that Republicans would allow the nomination process to move forward.

“I think it will be very difficult for [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to explain how, if the public concludes that this person is very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons. We'll see what happens. And I think the situation may evolve over time,” Obama said.

A McConnell aide told The Hill that the White House has invited the Kentucky lawmaker and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to discuss his plans to nominate someone for the court.

It’s unclear if the pair will show up for the meeting, but should they refuse it would add to the narrative the White House is trying to build about Republican obstructionism.