NATIONAL POLITICS

Democrats welcome Supreme Court nominee to Capitol Hill. Republicans -- not so much

Senate Republican leaders dug in Thursday, refusing to consider President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, as the nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, began making the rounds on Capitol Hill before senators left town for a two-week recess.

The affable 63-year-old chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit made no comments as he met with two top Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.

“What you see is what you get with him. There’s no hidden agenda,” Leahy, a former prosecutor, said after the meeting. The confirmation process could be wrapped up by Memorial Day if Republicans would budge from their blockade, Leahy added.

Some Republican senators indicated they would be willing to at least meet with the nominee, including many who are up for reelection this fall. But they indicated the visits would be merely a courtesy and not a change of position.

A few Republicans have talked of holding a confirmation vote on Garland during the lame-duck session of Congress, after the election, but that has led to criticism that senators are playing games with Obama’s choice.

Democrats and their allies in labor unions, environmental organizations and other groups hope to put pressure on Republican senators, particularly those up for reelection this year, while they are home for the spring recess, starting Friday. Some signs of distress over the GOP’s refusal to consider the nomination during an election year have emerged among some Republican senators already.

Democrats are banking on a groundswell of public opinion to shift the GOP intransigence over Garland, a seasoned jurist who was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate to his current job in 1997. Polls show most Americans disapprove of the Republican Party’s tactic.

Reid said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “is sacrificing the Republican majority to allow Donald Trump to pick the nominee.”

But McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, showed no inclination to abandon the position he took within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death last month — that the next president should choose the nominee.

“Our determination to allow the American people to have a voice has always been about a principle, not a person,” McConnell said in an opinion piece in USA Today.

Scalia was a monumental figure to conservatives, and his death leaves the court split four to four between liberals and conservatives and potentially deadlocked on key issues this term — including Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which deferred deportations for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

But as the party openly fights to stop Trump — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio returned to the Senate on Thursday hopeful that the billionaire could still be blocked — the GOP has backed itself into a difficult position of allowing either Trump or a Democratic president, potentially Hillary Clinton, to chose the next justice.

Conservative Republicans, though, insist they are unfazed by that dilemma, confident they are in the right and history is on their side.

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who is up for reelection in the fall, said he conducted an informal poll during a telephone town hall with constituents Monday night, and they overwhelmingly urged him to shelve the confirmation until the new president is in the White House.

“You’d find a lot of people say this president has had a lot of nominees already,” Lankford said.

“I have no problem meeting with him,” he added about Garland. “But we already know where this is going to go.”

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

For the latest from Congress and 2016 campaign follow @LisaMascaro

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