President Barack Obama met with leaders of the Republican-led Senate on Tuesday to push for confirmation hearings and a vote on his nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, but the Republicans again vowed not to act on anyone he selects.
Obama, planning to name a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia in the coming weeks, met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, in the White House Oval Office for less than an hour.
The president and Republican senators are at odds over whether Obama should select during an election year a replacement for Scalia, a long-serving conservative member of the court who died on Feb. 13. The White House session yielded no breakthrough on how to handle the vacancy.
“We killed a lot of time talking about basketball and other stuff,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who also attended the White House meeting, along with the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy.
The Democrats said after the meeting that their Republican counterparts refused to drop their opposition to considering any nominee put forward by Obama.
“They were willing to meet with the president. It looks like they could at least meet with the president’s nominee, which should be coming very quickly,” Reid said after the Oval Office meeting.
“But they were adamant. They said, ‘No, we’re not going to do this at all,'” Reid said.
Under the Constitution, the president nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate must confirm them. Without Scalia, the court has four conservative and four liberal justices, meaning that any potential Obama nominee could tip the court to the left for the first time in decades.
Reid said Obama made it clear during the meeting that he would be willing to consider candidates for the Supreme Court proposed by the Republicans, but McConnell and Grassley brought up no names.
The Democrats pledged to continue to make their case to the American people that Republicans have a constitutional duty to consider a nominee.
McConnell and Grassley did not speak to reporters after the meeting but were expected to make comments later on Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol.
Ahead of the meeting, Grassley and McConnell wrote separate opinion pieces on Tuesday reiterating their stance that Scalia’s former seat should remain vacant until Obama’s successor takes office next January and can choose a nominee.
Grassley and McConnell said leaving the seat open would allow the American people to have a say in the selection when they pick a new president in the Nov. 8 election.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Will Dunham)