- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2016

The White House said Thursday that President Obama isn’t giving up on the possibility of the Senate holding a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, despite not a single new Republican defection from a blockade of his nomination.

Asked if the Garland nomination is dead, White House press secretary Josh Earnest replied, “No, I would not acknowledge that at this stage.”

“The president is serious about holding the Senate accountable,” Mr. Earnest said. “Republicans have to decide how they’re going to answer the question about why their constituents can’t hear from Judge Garland.”

The president’s spokesman even said Democrats would be “justified” in blocking the next Republican president’s high court nominees for an entire four-year term, given the current impasse.

“They would be justified in doing it, based on what Republicans have done so far,” Mr. Earnest said.

The president also floated that scenario last week during an event at the University of Chicago Law School.

Judge Garland met with several Republican senators this week, including some who are up for reelection in swing states, such as Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. But there have been no new calls among Republicans for the Senate to grant the nominee a hearing or a vote.

Mr. Portman said Thursday he had a “very cordial meeting” with Judge Garland but it didn’t change his mind.

“I believe the American people should have a voice in this debate,” Mr. Portman said, referring to Senate Republicans’ insistence that the next president should choose a nominee. “This is a lifetime appointment that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations, and I believe the best thing for the country is to trust the American people to weigh in.”

Former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who is opposing Mr. Portman in November’s election, accused the Republican of “abandoning his constitutional duties, failing to do his job, and once again pushing the interests of the Washington power brokers he serves over the people of Ohio.”

“Senator Portman announced beforehand that this meeting would serve no purpose, so he held a meeting about nothing,” Mr. Strickland said.

Conservative activists rushed to defend Mr. Portman, as they have with other potentially vulnerable Republican senators.

“The people of Ohio appreciate Senator Portman’s principled stand against President Obama’s attempt to cement a liberal majority on the Supreme Court that will last for decades,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network. “Americans should not be denied a voice in their next Supreme Court Justice and Senator Portman and his Republican colleagues are ensuring they have that opportunity in November.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, also met with Judge Garland on Thursday and emerged to say their conversation didn’t change his mind about blocking the nomination.

“He is obviously a man of accomplishment and keen intellect,” Mr. Flake said. “He is also kind and engaging. Because this nomination has the potential to so dramatically shift the balance of the court, I continue to believe that the Senate is fully justified in waiting until the presidential election before proceeding to fill the seat.”

Mr. Flake previously had said he believes the Senate should consider the nomination in the lame-duck period after the election.

Latino community leaders in Arizona blasted Mr. Flake and his Republican colleague, Sen. John McCain, for refusing to do their jobs.

“They’re not working for the people of Arizona especially when majority of Americans want the Senate to move forward with hearings and a vote,” said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, calling their actions “grossly offensive.”

Mr. Toomey, running for re-election in a state that Mr. Obama won twice, said he is concerned that Judge Garland wouldn’t be an effective watchdog on the expansion of executive power.

“We talked about concerns I have about his record and his judicial philosophy,” Mr. Toomey said. “Unfortunately, for me, throughout the process of this discussion, he did not assuage my concerns. I’m not convinced that he would be willing to play the role of a sufficiently aggressive check on an administration.”

The White House hit back at Mr. Toomey by name, as it has against other Republican senators in criticism that increasingly sounds like sound bites made for Democratic campaign advertisements. Mr. Earnest said Republicans are in “a tough position — Sen. Toomey in particular.”

“I just don’t think there at that many Pennsylvanians who are sympathetic to the argument that Sen. Toomey shouldn’t do his job just because the Republican leader in the Senate said he shouldn’t,” Mr. Earnest said. “I think the people of Pennsylvania expect that as long as their senator is cashing his paychecks, that he should be doing his job and fulfilling his constitutional responsibilities.”

So far, no Democratic senators have expressed serious reservations about Judge Garland. Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who met with the nominee this week, said Republicans should simply hold a hearing and vote their preference.

“After a fair hearing, my colleagues have every right to vote their conscience, but they should not obstruct this process altogether,” Mr. Warner said. “I call upon my Republican colleagues to do their job, and allow the process to move forward: give this qualified nominee the hearing and the vote he deserves.”

Mr. Obama tapped Judge Garland, 63, chief judge of the federal U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to fill the vacancy created by the death in February of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

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