Senate Republican leader: No lame-duck hearing of court pick

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Sen. Mitch McConnell made clear Sunday there would be no confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland until at least January. | AP Photo

WASHINGTON — No Supreme Court hearings, no votes, not during regular business or a post-election lame-duck session, the Senate’s majority leader made clear Sunday.

Sen. Mitch McConnell signaled no retreat or surrender from his firm stand to keep the court short-handed through at least January, scuttling the suggestion from at least one GOP colleague worried that a new Democrat in the White House — Hillary Clinton is the party’s front-runner — might nominate someone more liberal than President Barack Obama’s pick, federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland.

“I can’t imagine that a Republican majority Senate, even if it were soon to be a minority, would want to confirm a judge that would move the court dramatically to the left,” McConnell said in one of his Sunday news show appearances. “That’s not going to happen.”

Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, won Republican votes for his current seat and is seen as a centrist whose nomination to the nine-member Supreme Court could box in Obama’s opponents, shaken by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative bulwark.

McConnell, R-Ky., hasn’t budged from his insistence, beginning just hours after Scalia’s death last month, that the Senate would not confirm an Obama nominee in an election year, let alone hold hearings. He even ruled out meeting the president’s pick, a standard courtesy.

Democrats are using the issue against vulnerable Republicans facing re-election, hoping for leverage to retake the Senate after the November vote.

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So far, though, just one GOP senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has broken with his party leaders and called for a vote on Garland. A growing number of Republicans are willing to meet with Garland, including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. He floated the idea of considering the Garland’s nomination in the postelection session because “between him and somebody that a President Clinton might nominate, I think the choice is clear.”

To that argument, McConnell gave no ground: “Whether it’s before the election or after the election, the principle is the American people are choosing their next president and their next president should pick this Supreme Court nominee.”

And while expressing confidence in Kirk’s re-election prospects, McConnell said that he, as majority leader, sets the Senate’s schedule “and most of my members are very comfortable” with his position.

In the eyes of the Senate’s Democratic leader, McConnell is inflicting political pain on his GOP colleagues. “He’s marching these men, women over a cliff. I don’t think they’re going to go,” said Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who is not running for re-election.

With Kirk’s stand, “that facade is breaking as we speak,” Reid contended.

The president’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said the Obama White House would stand by Garland “from now until he is confirmed and he is sitting on the Supreme Court.”

“What we’d like to see,” McDonough said, is Garland confirmed through “regular order” in the Senate.

“Getting the Senate working again would mean giving this person meetings, a hearing, a vote in committee and a vote on the floor,” he said. “There’s enough politicization in Washington. Let’s get on with our business.”

McConnell appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week,” “Fox News Sunday” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” McDonough was on ABC and Fox, while Reid was interviewed on NBC.

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