Obama warned court nominee he was entering a 'war zone'
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President Obama says he used stark language in warning Judge Merrick Garland of the bruising confirmation battle he would face if he accepted his nomination to the Supreme Court.

The president said in an interview released Friday that he had a "candid" conversation with Garland about the torrent of criticism he could face from Senate Republicans and the consequences it could have for his family.

"For those of us who are more often in the scrum of politics, we call folks like Judge Garland 'civilians,’ ” Obama told NPR's Nina Totenberg. “And so, suddenly being placed in a war zone like this is something that you want to make sure they're mindful of.”

That political climate, and the slim chance any nominee has of being confirmed this year, led to speculation that Obama might have trouble convincing top talent to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

Republicans in the Senate have vowed not to hold hearings or votes on any Obama nominee. Before Garland was selected, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (R-Texas) suggested Obama’s pick would be treated like a “piñata” in the fierce court fight.

But Garland showed he was up to the task, Obama said.

"He is at a stage in his career where, given his confidence in his record, given the reputation that he's built in the legal community, that he is prepared I think to take on whatever unfair or unjust or wildly exaggerated claims that may be made by those who are just opposed to any nominee that I might make," he said.

Obama defended Garland as "one of the best judges, not just in the country but of his generation” and made it clear he wants a vote on him now, and not after the November elections.

"It is my belief that now more than ever his voice would serve the court well, would help to burnish the sense that the Supreme Court is above politics, and not just an extension of politics," said Obama, adding that Garland’s steady hand would end up "increasing the American people's confidence in our justice system."

Some Republicans have floated the possibility of confirming Garland in a lame-duck session after November, viewing him as a more attractive option than anyone presidential front-runners Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE or Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE might nominate. But GOP leaders shot down that possibility Thursday.

Obama said he plans to take his case for Garland to the American public in the coming weeks, including stops on the road.

The president offered a glimpse of his message, warning that Republicans could inflict permanent damage on the judicial system if they maintain their Supreme Court blockade. He said it could set a new precedent for senators who want to hold up the nomination process.

"At that point the judiciary becomes a pure extension of politics,” he said. “And that damages people's faith in the judiciary.”

He vented his frustration with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.), who has refused to consider Garland and argued that the public should decide how to fill the seat in November’s elections.

"Well, in fact, the American people did decide, back in 2012 when they elected me president of the United States with sufficient electoral votes,” Obama said.