- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

For the moment, Senate Republicans look like they’re winning their fight to prevent President Obama from filling an election-year vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Obama didn’t get anywhere with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in a meeting Tuesday in the Oval Office, in which the president beseeched the Republican lawmakers to suggest candidates for him to nominate.

“They brought up no names,” said a frustrated Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who also attended the meeting. “They were adamant. They said ‘No, we are not going to do this at all.’ They’re going to wait and see what President Trump will do, I guess.”

Although the president has yet to pick anyone, the battle lines were clear before the meeting. Mr. Obama says he has a constitutional duty to nominate a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 13 at age 79.

If the president somehow were able to get a reliably progressive justice confirmed by a Republican-majority Senate, it would swing the balance of power on the divided Court from conservative to liberal.

But Mr. McConnell, Mr. Grassley and other Senate Republicans say they won’t allow a hearing or a vote on any nominee, arguing that an election year is the wrong time for such a momentous task. They say voters should decide, by electing a new president in November, whether they want a Republican or Democrat to replace Scalia.

Mr. McConnell said the meeting with the president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden “was a good opportunity to reiterate our view that this appointment should be made by the next president.”

“This vacancy will not be filled this year,” the Kentucky Republican said. “We will look forward to the American people deciding who they want to make this appointment through their own vote.”

With Republicans refusing to budge, the only real hope for Mr. Obama and his liberal allies is to turn up the public pressure on GOP lawmakers, especially vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election in November. Asked what leverage Democrats can muster, Mr. Reid of Nevada replied, “The American people vote.”

A coalition of progressive grass-roots groups said Tuesday they are delivering petitions to the home-state offices of Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Grassley of Iowa, all of whom seek re-election this year.

The campaign is also running online ads against the GOP lawmakers.

Carl Tobias, a law school professor at the University of Richmond, said “history and custom are on Obama’s side,” noting that the Democratic Senate confirmed President Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee, Anthony Kennedy, in the election year of 1988 by a vote of 97-0.

Republicans point out that the vacancy actually occurred in 1987 and that Democrats forced the Kennedy nomination only by refusing the previous fall to confirm Robert Bork on ideological grounds.

Mr. McConnell and other GOP lawmakers are citing the so-called “Biden rule,” referring to Mr. Biden’s speech in 1992 as chairman of the Judiciary Committee that said Republican President George H.W. Bush shouldn’t nominate anyone to the high court in an election year.

Mr. Biden, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, even re-read portions of his 1992 speech in an effort to show Republicans they’re wrong about his past position, Mr. Reid said.

“If you look at how he concluded his speech, he said no nomination should be held up,” Mr. Reid said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president didn’t expect to change Republicans’ minds in the meeting Tuesday.

“The meeting was pretty straightforward. No one represented that he was about to change his position on something,” Mr. Earnest said.

“It’s up in the air about whether or not Republicans will follow through on their threat not to engage in their constitutional duties. Ultimately, they’ll have to decide their own course. I don’t expect that they’re going to change their minds just because I said so.”

Among the liberal groups trying to exert pressure on Republican lawmakers is Organizing for Action, the spin-off group created from Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign organization. The president’s former campaign manager, Jim Messina, blasted GOP lawmakers for their “hard-headed contempt.”

“The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have promised not to hold a single hearing on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee,” said Jim Messina in an email to supporters. “Some of them have said they wouldn’t even open their office door to meet him or her. This kind of hard-headed contempt for their duties as senators has gone way too far.”

Mr. Messina urged progressives to sign a petition because “we’re not going to take this lying down.”

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