Top Senate Republicans vowed Wednesday to continue blocking President Obama’s nomination to the Supreme Court ahead of November’s presidential election, even if Obama chooses the Republican governor of Nevada to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Brian Sandoval, a centrist former federal judge who has served as governor since 2011, is among the Supreme Court candidates under White House consideration, according to two people familiar with the selection process. Some key Democrats view Sandoval as perhaps the only nominee President Obama could select who would be able to break a Republican blockade in the Senate.
But after The Washington Post published news of Sandoval’s consideration Wednesday, GOP leaders insisted that Obama nominating a Republican would make no difference.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who pledged “no action” on any Supreme Court nomination before November’s election on Tuesday, said in a statement that the nominee “will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the fall.”
The No. 2 Senate Republican leader, Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, said likewise: “This is not about the personality.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday he would not comment specifically on whether the administration was considering Sandoval because he did not want “to get into a rhythm of responding” to every report on a potential nominee. But he said that Obama was committed to finding “the best person to fill the vacancy at the Supreme Court,” regardless of party.
“The president’s focused on criteria that, frankly, is more important, and that is that individual’s qualifications, and their experience and their view of the law,” Earnest said. “That will take precedence over any sort of political consideration.”
Sandoval would represent an unconventional pick for the president, a former constitutional law professor who has prized prestigious law pedigrees and extensive legal backgrounds in the jurists he has previously selected for the court. While the selection of a Republican could heighten the political pressure on Senate GOP leaders, it could also alienate the Democratic base and runs counter to Obama’s emphasis on taking a long view of who deserves to sit on the nation’s highest court.
A Sandoval spokesman, Mari St. Martin, said Wednesday that “Neither Governor Sandoval nor his staff have been contacted by or talked to the Obama Administration regarding any potential vetting for the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
It is clear, however, that Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid, a fellow Nevadan with whom Sandoval enjoys cordial relations, is a playing a key role as intermediary. While visiting Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association, Sandoval met with Reid in his Capitol office Monday.
A person familiar with the conversation said that while Sandoval told Reid he had not made a final decision on whether he would accept a Supreme Court nomination, he would allow the vetting process to move forward. Another person in Nevada familiar with the process confirmed that the process is underway.
Asked about a potential nomination on Saturday, Sandoval told The Morning Consult, “It would be a privilege,” calling the Supreme Court “the essence of justice in this country.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Mike DeBonis and Juliet Eilperin