Obama phones McConnell, Grassley about Supreme Court

Obama phones McConnell, Grassley about Supreme Court
© Greg Nash

President Obama has begun to consult with key senators from both parties on nominating a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the White House said Friday.  

In the past 24 hours, Obama phoned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: 'Good chance' Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Iowa), press secretary Josh Earnest said. Both senators have said replacing Scalia should be left to the next president.

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Earnest described the calls as “entirely professional" and said Obama made clear "he is going to nominate someone.”

“He is committed to talking to Congress,” the spokesman added. “He reiterated his firm belief that the Senate has a constitutional obligation here as well.”

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart described it as a "quick call," in which Obama formally informed the leader of his intent to put forth a nominee.

Scalia’s death last weekend set off a fierce partisan battle over whether Obama should nominate a replacement in the midst of the presidential election. 

Obama spoke to Grassley Friday morning, after he co-authored an op-ed with McConnell in The Washington Post reiterating their stance the next president, and not Obama, should pick a replacement for the conservative jurist.  

The president and his Democratic allies in Congress have said it would be irresponsible and unprecedented to leave a vacancy on the court that could last a year or more.

Earnest pointed out that both McConnell and Grassley supported the last Supreme Court nominee to receive a vote in a presidential election year: Anthony Kennedy in 1988.  

“They know firsthand there is a clear precedent here,” Earnest said.  

The president also consulted with Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThe Memo: Trump pulls off a stone-cold stunner The Memo: Ending DACA a risky move for Trump Manchin pressed from both sides in reelection fight MORE (D-Nev.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Live coverage: Sanders rolls out single-payer bill MORE (D-Vt.)

The conversations are an indication Obama’s process to choose a Supreme Court nominee has begun in earnest.  

White House aides have refused to provide a specific timeline for Obama's pick and have not hinted at which potential nominees are on the president’s list.

Earnest did offer kind words for Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who has been mentioned in news reports as an option to fill Scalia’s seat. 

When asked about Lynch, the spokesman pointed out that Obama’s last court nominee, Elena Kagan, served as solicitor general and her previous job in the administration did not “did not present obstacles that were insurmountable” to being confirmed.  

He also noted Lynch received bipartisan support when she was confirmed as attorney general in 2014. 

Over the weekend, Obama is expected to begin poring over materials compiled by his advisers about candidates for the high court. The files contain information about their records and professional careers, Earnest said. 

Earnest indicated the White House hasn't settled on a final list of candidates for Obama to consider.

“The president does not have a shortlist, and the list has not been completed," he said. "This is the very beginning of the process.” 

-- This report was updated at 2:09 p.m.