President Obama will not pull back the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in a lame-duck session of Congress if Democrats keep control of the presidency, the White House reiterated on Friday.
“I cannot imagine a scenario where the president would withdraw support from his nominee,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
But the White House stressed Obama believes Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is the best candidate to fill the court vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“The president believes strongly that Chief Judge Garland is the right person for the job,” Earnest said. “The president will stand by him and urge the United States Senate to confirm him promptly.”
The Vermont senator's comments echo grumbles from some corners of the left that Obama should have picked a nominee with more liberal credentials.
Garland is "probably not the most progressive pick that he could have made,” Sanders told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday.
Still, the self-described democratic socialist said he would back Garland's nomination for now.
"The idea that the president should not be able to make a nomination is totally absurd," he said. "I will do everything I can to see that there is hearings and a vote takes place and that Garland becomes seated on the Supreme Court."
Obama said he was looking to pick a nominee who could be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate despite their refusal to consider any candidate the president puts forth in an election year.
“I said at the outset I would not use this appointment as a political symbol, as a way to score points, as a way to gin up my base,” Obama told NPR in an interview published Friday.
“I said I would play it straight — that my goal was to actually confirm a justice who I thought could do an outstanding job. And Merrick Garland fits that bill.”
Earnest said the White House did not give a heads up to Sanders or Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonLawmakers targeted as district politics shift Want a tremendous deal on infrastructure spending? Suspend Davis-Bacon Constitutional amendment could vastly improve campaign finance MORE before he made his choice.
“I feel confident in telling you that they learned about the news from news reports," he said.
Senate Republicans have held firm on their stance the court vacancy should be filled by the next president.
“The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country, so of course the American people should have a say in the court’s direction," McConnell said earlier this week.
But the fight over Garland has created cracks in GOP unity. Several Senate Republicans have said they are willing to meet with Garland, despite McConnell's (R-Ky.) refusal to do so.
And Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkThe way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump ObamaCare repeal bill would defund Planned Parenthood Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood MORE (R-Ill.), who is facing a tough reelection race this year, has called out his colleagues refusing to consider Obama's pick.
“Just man up and cast a vote. The tough thing about these senatorial jobs is you get yes or no votes, Kirk told “The Big John Howell Show” on WLS.
“Your whole job is to either say yes or no, and explain why.”
GOP leaders have also sought to quash talk that they could confirm Garland in the lame-duck session after the election, should they be faced with the possibility of an even more unacceptable nominee from the next president.