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Supreme Court nominee meets with Congressional Democrats

March 17, 2016 at 7:23 PM EST
President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee judge Merrick Garland made his first official visit to Capitol Hill Thursday morning, meeting with key Senate Democrats including Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). For more on the morning’s events and the coming Congressional confirmation battle, Judy Woodruff talks to NPR’s Congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland made the trek to Capitol Hill today. President Obama’s selection for the Supreme Court paid his first official visit, meeting with key Senate Democrats.

For more, we’re joined by NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang. She joins us from Capitol Hill.

Hello, Ailsa.

So, tell us, what sort of a reception did Judge Garland get?

AILSA CHANG, NPR: Well, today, because it was the two Democrats, he got an overwhelmingly positive reception.

But that was what was so conspicuous, is that today’s visit to Capitol Hill was just made up of two appointments with two key Democrats. Usually, when a Supreme Court nominee arrives on the Hill, the first people he or she meets are the top two Senate leaders, one in each party, and the top senators on the Judiciary Committee of each party.

So, today, because he only met with Minority Leader Harry Reid and the ranking member or top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, it wasn’t quite the reception that we’re usually used to seeing for Supreme Court nominees on the Hill.

Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor the Judiciary chair, Grassley, Chuck Grassley, were on his schedule today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Any word, Ailsa, on how these meetings went, or were they purely formalities?

AILSA CHANG: They’re usually a formality. They’re very ceremonial. There’s this gracious affair. They’re mostly a photo opportunity.

The question now is, how many meetings will he actually get with Republican senators in the weeks ahead? He actually spoke on the phone with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday. McConnell, through his spokesperson, told everybody that he wanted, he preferred to speak to Garland on the phone because he didn’t want to put Garland through the unnecessary political routines, and that he wanted to inform him that he will not get a face-to-face meeting with the Senate majority leader, because Garland will not get a confirmation vote this year, according to the Senate majority leader.

But he said that he did wish Garland well. Now, Chairman Chuck Grassley — at least the White House yesterday said that Grassley’s office had said that Grassley would — planned to meet with the nominee in a couple weeks after the Senate recess.

But Grassley this morning made it very clear that he made no such promise, that when he spoke to Garland personally on the phone yesterday, he said Garland should call him back after the recess is over and check in with him again, and they would decide how to go forward from there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

Now, a few Republican senators have said that they will meet with him. Is that right? Just a handful.

AILSA CHANG: Just a handful, about five or six.

Susan Collins of Maine, who has been known for a long time to be a moderate, from the very outset, she said that she thinks that the nominee, whomever Obama picks, should get a full confirmation process, should get a full confirmation hearing, should get a confirmation vote. So it’s no surprise that she reiterated this week that she would meet with Merrick Garland.

Three senators that are running in battleground states in 2016 said that they would go ahead and meet with Garland, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Kirk had said also from nearly the outset that he thinks Obama’s nominee should get a full confirmation hearing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, these are senators who are facing — they’re having to compete in states where the Democrats have some chance, so they’re feeling a little bit of a different atmosphere back home.

Ailsa, what exactly then does Merrick Garland face? Are we just looking at weeks and months of no contact at all with the Senate?

AILSA CHANG: I mean, it — well, he will certainly — he will certainly coming up to the Hill for many, many meetings with Democrats, but the question is, how many more Republicans will agree to these meetings?

Now, if you talk to Chuck Schumer of New York, he says that the ice is breaking, the fact that five or six Republican senators are saying now that they will meet with the nominee shows that there are many more Republican senators who are going to crack, because it’s just untenable that — the position they’re taking. That is sort of the hope that Democrats are expressing right now.

But it’s really going to be up to the Senate Democrats to try to keep this issue alive, especially now we’re going into a two-week recess. You know, it means calling up press events. It means getting their grassroots efforts out there, continuing to push this into the public eye, and getting reporters like me to keep writing about a story — about this story, because if the story ceases to change, it’s hard to keep justifying coverage of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s an unprecedented situation, at least in our modern — in my memory. I don’t remember anything like this.

Ailsa Chang with NPR, thank you very much.

AILSA CHANG: You’re welcome.

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