Sen. Charles E. Grassley had a message Thursday for those hoping Iowa town halls over the past Senate recess would pressure him into holding hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland: Nope.
“I came away from those meetings feeling positive about the discussions that we’ve had both before and during the recess,” Grassley said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “In other words the recess reinforced my thinking.”
The comments came ahead of President Barack Obama’s speech about Garland’s nomination later in the day at the University of Chicago, where the president used to teach constitutional law.
The Iowa Republican said he had 19 meetings in public or at companies or homes during the Senate’s recess over two weeks in late March. Grassley said national advocacy groups sent people to those town halls to pressure him to hold confirmation hearings, but the Iowans he met with said their concern was on both sides of the issue.
“They also told me they’re concerned the court makes politically based decisions about important constitutional issues, and there’s an understanding in mind that that isn’t just Democrat-appointed justices, that there’s some Republican-appointed justices that fall into that category,” Grassley said.
Grassley, as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, can control whether the Senate holds confirmation hearings for Garland. Grassley has said repeatedly that the next president should fill the vacancy left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February.
In a written version of a statement that Grassley did not stick to Thursday, he said, “Everyday Iowans want the opportunity to weigh in on the direction of the Court for a generation. That’s not the story the press wants to write, but it’s true.”
Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., said earlier this week that Grassley has “been the Rock of Gibraltar” when it comes to resisting political pressure on the nomination.
McConnell, who has repeatedly said Garland would not get a confirmation vote, took to the floor Thursday to again praise Grassley and criticize Obama’s remarks before the president speaks.
McConnell said that Obama would probably say that “the Constitution requires the Senate to have a vote on his nominee no matter what and thereby deny the American people a voice in the future of the Supreme Court.”
“In the words of The Washington Post fact-checker, he’ll be telling supporters a politically convenient fairy tale,” McConnell said.
The Obama administration doesn’t want the American people messing up this chance to make the most left-wing court in 50 years, McConnell said.
“This is just one more reason why the American people are lucky to have a Judiciary Committee chairman like Senator Grassley in their corner,” McConnell said. “Senator Grassley is passionate about giving the people of this country a voice in such a critical conversation.”
The administration appears to have a long-term strategy on Garland and hopes to intensify election-year pressure on enough Republican senators so that McConnell and Grassley give in.
In Chicago, Obama will “say that the Senate … should do their job, and that that’s an argument that you’ve heard him make before,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.
“I’m confident that the president will reiterate a case that you’ve heard him make a number of times now,” Earnest said, “that the Senate should set aside partisan considerations and actually focus on their constitutional responsibility.”
In the meantime, Garland continued one-on-one meetings with senators on the Hill on Thursday. He is set to meet with four more Democrats: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Chris Coons of Delaware and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.