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White House Senses ‘Sea Change’ on Supreme Court Pick

Grassley, Ayotte join list of GOP senators meeting with Garland, but overall position unchanged

Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland (left) with Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, the first Republican to meet with the veteran jurist. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland (left) with Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, the first Republican to meet with the veteran jurist. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

White House officials sense a “sea change” among Senate Republicans as more lawmakers agree to meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.  

Minutes after Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., announced she intended to sit down with Garland, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said she and her colleagues are finding it increasingly hard to remained aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

The Kentucky Republican wasted little time after the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia to proclaim his party would not consider any nominee submitted by President Barack Obama in his final months in office.  

But as more Republicans agree to meet with Garland, it is a sign of “some visible discomfort” inside the GOP caucus as senators, especially ones in tight re-election races, hear from voters who support a confirmation process, Earnest said.  

That means one-on-one meetings, a confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee and an up-or-down vote. Earnest referenced polls showing a majority of voters, and many Republicans, want just that.  

Obama administration officials believe “we’ve made some important progress,” Earnest told reporters. “I think there’s been a sea change when it comes to meetings.”  

Garland, the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is far from a judicial liberal. Some senior Republicans have called him a strong high court candidate when past vacancies occurred.  

“Now that the president has nominated someone with impeccable credentials,” Earnest said of Senate Republicans, “it makes their position even more difficult to defend.”  

But Ayotte, who plans to meet with Garland next week, said she is sticking with GOP leaders who are standing firm in their plan to not consider him.  

“I will meet with the president’s nominee out of courtesy and respect,” Ayotte said in a statement. “And I also plan to explain my view that the people should have a voice in this important nomination through their votes in November.”  

Late Monday, Grassley spoke with Garland by phone, according to a committee aide, and invited the jurist to meet him over breakfast, though the place and time remain to be determined.  

Grassley, a prominent voice against considering the nomination as his committee weighs such appointments, previously said he would talk with Garland this spring. His decision to meet with him now gives political cover to more Republicans to do the same.  

Conservative activists have put enormous pressure on Republicans to stick to their guns on Garland. Democrats also have launched a public effort — the #DoYourJob campaign — over the just-concluded spring recess.  

Only Mark S. Kirk, has outright called for a vote, while another, Susan Collins, has said his nomination should be considered. John Boozman of Arkansas, like Ayotte, believes the Senate should not go any further.  

The Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates Ayotte’s race in the Granite State as Tilts Republican . Boozman’s seat is rated safe Republican this year, while Kirk is in a tough race in Illinois. Collins is not up for re-election but is a moderate voice in the Senate.  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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