Obama has also begun to formally reach out to congressional leaders, calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick J. Leahy D-(Vt.). Earnest did not reveal the content of the conversations, but said they were “entirely professional” and conveyed the president’s determination to send a nominee up to Capitol Hill.
“But I just would say that the president is serious about robust consultation with Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate,” he said.
Even as the political debate raged on over Justice Anton Scalia’s replacement, the president and first lady went to the Supreme Court Friday afternoon to pay their respects to his body in the Court’s Great Hall. Some conservatives have criticized the president for not attending Saturday’s funeral mass for Scalia, but Earnest said Friday’s visit gave Obama an opportunity “to both pay his personal respects to those who loved Justice Scalia, but also pay tribute to the outsized impact that he had on the country and on our legal system. “
Obama’s initial outreach efforts to lawmakers came just as Vice President Biden said in a handful of interviews Thursday evening that Obama needs to pick a consensus candidate in order to win Senate approval. Speaking in an interview with The Washington Post and Politico, Biden said the president needs to select someone “who is intellectually competent, is a person of high moral character, is a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind, and is a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda.”
“And there are a whole hell of a lot of people who Republicans have already voted for who fall in that category, who we can like, in my opinion. And there are a lot people they haven’t voted for who fall in that category,” the vice president said. “But the idea that we’re going to go in and decide we’re going to pick an, I don’t know, a new Justice Brennan, I don’t think that’s going to happen. That’s not how the system works.”
Earnest would not comment Friday on whether the president would feel compelled to pick a moderate, but said, “We know that the president’s nominee will need bipartisan support, and that’s what they will deserve.”
He also did not rule out the idea of Obama selecting a high-ranking administration official, such as Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. Asked whether Lynch might be a candidate, Earnest noted that the president nominated Elena Kagan in 2010 while she was serving as his solicitor general.
“So I guess the point is it matters if a nominee is someone who is already playing a role — an influential role in the justice system, but even somebody who’s as central to that process as a solicitor general… did not present obstacles that were insurmountable,” he said.
While the White House has already identified several possible candidates, Earnest said another could still surface in the days ahead. “The president does not have a short list, and the list has not been completed.”
Meanwhile, outside groups ramped up their efforts Friday to influence lawmakers. The League of Conservation Voters sent an email to its members urging them to sign a petition calling on McConnell and other Senate Republicans to hold a vote on anyone Obama nominates for the vacancy.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Supreme Court battles that lie ahead, which is why we are gearing up to fight more aggressively than ever before,” the email to LCV voters read. “Only together can we can be so loud that everyone in the Senate will hear that it’s time for Republican leadership to stop obstructing and start taking their responsibilities seriously.”