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 McConnellSherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' McConnell: Bevin pardons 'completely inappropriate' House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz did not find evidence Obama asked for probe of Trump 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 ReidNevada journalist: Harry Reid will play 'significant role' in Democratic primary The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached MORE (D-Nev.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHorowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Horowitz: 'We found no bias' in decision to open probe Horowitz: 'Very concerned' about FBI leaks to Giuliani 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.