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 McConnellMcConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch Funding a strong defense of our nation's democratic process can't wait The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyScandal in Puerto Rico threatens chance at statehood Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Democrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection 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 Mason ReidDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Webb: Questions for Robert Mueller Steyer's impeachment solution is dead wrong MORE (D-Nev.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Democrats grill USDA official on relocation plans that gut research staff Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens 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.