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White House Meeting Fails To Bridge Divide Over Obama Supreme Court Nominee


In Washington, Republican senators met with President Obama at the White House today. The topic - how to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. That's something that Republicans have refused to do this year. And as NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, the meeting did not change their minds.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: One word for the President's Oval Office consultation with lawmakers - awkward. Camera crews raced into the room and nearly sideswiped the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Careful, everybody. Don't hurt Senator Grassley. We need him.

JOHNSON: A minute later, reporters were ushered away so both sides could get down to business. Problem is, as far as Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is concerned, there is no business. Here's McConnell after the meeting.

MITCH MCCONNELL: This is going to be decided by the American people, and the next president, whoever that may be, will fill this vacancy.

JOHNSON: In other words, when President Obama chooses a nominee, that person will get no hearing and no vote. McConnell says Democrats should focus on items that can get done this year, like fighting drug addiction. That approach isn't going over so well with his counterpart, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada.


HARRY REID: All we want them to do is to do their constitutional duty and do their job. At this stage, they decided not to do that. They think that they're going to wait and see what President Trump will do, I guess, as far the nomination.

JOHNSON: Reid says President Obama reached out to Republicans to hear if they had any suggestions to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia, but even behind closed doors, the lawmakers offered no names. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest says the offer's still open.


JOSH EARNEST: If there are individual members of the Senate who, after a good-night's sleep, wake up tomorrow morning with a good suggestion and a desire to genuinely engage in the process, then they certainly know how to reach the White House, and they know how to get the president on the phone.

JOHNSON: The White House, says the president, will nominate a qualified candidate for the Supreme Court, and if Republicans don't act, Ernest argues, that could leave the court a weaker institution, not to mention leaving it vulnerable to 4-to-4 ties, says Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy.


PATRICK LEAHY: Let's just do it. Vote up, or vote down. Stop trying to politicize the Supreme Court.

JOHNSON: To hear Majority Leader McConnell tell it, it's too late for that.


MCCONNELL: If the shoe were on the other foot, do any of you think the Democrat majority in the Senate would be confirming a Republican president's nomination in the last year of his term - of course not.

JOHNSON: The White House says the president's still considering the records of potential nominees. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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