Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid vows fight for Garland
Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid vows fight for Garland | flickr, the commons

Supreme Court nominee to keep senators busy over the recess

The U.S. Senate on Friday began a two-week spring recess at a critical time – just two days after  President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Garland, the chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court, now has his name  twisting in the wind for the media to vet and for Republicans to attack. Democrats had only one full day  – Thursday – to hold coordinated efforts to promote Obama’s third pick for the high court.

Until the Senate reconvenes on April 4, the few Democratic efforts to defend and support Garland against GOP efforts to deny him even the formality of hearings will be scattered throughout the country at perhaps the most critical time for the nominee.

The difficult timing wasn’t lost on Democrats, who closed out their work-week late Thursday with a  series of press conferences.

Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada perhaps put the best spin on the situation by saying that Obama did the Senate a favor by making the nomination before the recess, going so far as to predict that Senate Republicans “will fail miserably” in attempting to block hearings for Garland. “You’re going to be surprised at how well we’re going to work to make sure this is still on the front pages and one of the top stories of electronic media.” 

Thursday’s press conferences were a series of why-won’t-they-do-their-jobs attacks on Republicans, who stayed mostly silent on the issue. Garland himself didn’t say a word to reporters: Asked during a photo-op with Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont simply what the experience was like, Garland just sat still and said nothing.

Several Democrats are going to Cuba next week with Obama, but are planning meetings with Garland during the recess. That includes Tom Carper of Delaware and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Other Democrats are planning events in their home states. Reid said he has three separate events planned in Nevada. Carper said his staff is putting one together. And Sen. Ned Blumenthal of Connecticut held one on Friday to promote Garland. “We need to educate the public about what’s at stake and how critical this decision is,” Blumenthal told AMI Newswire. “He is pre-eminently qualified, at least for consideration.”

The typical period between a Supreme Court nomination and confirmation is 60 to 90 days. But this year, Democratic senators are key to Garland’s fate because they are his only defenders in Congress’s upper chamber – the only branch of Congress that considers Supreme Court nominations. While the White House will be engaged as well, Obama’s trip to Cuba next week will hobble the administration’s efforts.

Two Republicans in particular are also key to Garland’s fate – GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa. Both have spoken with Garland by phone, but have given little hope to the idea of hearings for him in their public comments.

McConnell is among the senior Republicans who have also shut the door on any lame-duck hearings for Garland, after the November general election. But cracks have appeared within the GOP caucus on that point, with several Republicans expressing openness to either meeting with Garland or considering him in a lame-duck setting.

GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, for example, said Garland is a far more centrist nominee than a Democratic president would likely nominate. “I do think we have a responsibility to keep the balance on the court, and if we had a liberal nominee now, it would upset that balance,” Flake told AMI. 

“We’re justified in holding off, but if we lose the election, I’m open to considering the nominee. This is a less liberal nominee than we would get for certain with Hillary Clinton.”