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Sen. Orrin Hatch reacts to meeting with Merrick Garland before it occurs

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 18: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), (L), is flanked by House Speaker Ryan (D-WI), (R), while signing the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act of 2016, on Capitol Hill May18, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) hasn’t yet met with Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland for what has been a long anticipated encounter between the former Judiciary Committee chairman and the federal appeals court judge he has long praised.

But when the meeting does happen, don’t expect Garland to succeed in convincing Hatch to support his nomination, because Hatch has already declared that it won’t.

“Like many of my Senate colleagues, I recently met with Chief Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. … Our meeting, however, does not change my conviction that the Senate should consider a Supreme Court nominee after this presidential election cycle,” Hatch wrote in an op-ed published on the website of the Deseret News early Thursday morning and later removed. It remains available in a Google database.

[Update, 5/27: Hatch met with Garland on Thursday afternoon, and the Deseret News published the op-ed shortly thereafter.]

Paul Edwards, the executive editor of the Deseret News, on Thursday described the piece as a draft that was “awaiting edits from the Senator following his meeting with Judge Garland” and was published inadvertently. “We apologize to Senator Hatch and our readers for this unfortunate error,” he said.

“Senator Hatch has made clear from the beginning that he intends to meet with Judge Garland out of respect for their longtime friendship,” Hatch spokesman J.P. Freire said. “He looks forward to their meeting and the opportunity to explain his position on the current Supreme Court vacancy.”

The publishing snafu underscores how little traction Democrats have won with their slippery-slope strategy for getting Garland considered and confirmed in the Republican Senate: “It’s a step at a time,” as Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) described it earlier this year. “Inches will turn into feet, feet will turn into miles, and hopefully Judge Garland will turn into Justice Garland in the coming months.”

But Hatch’s pre-baked reaction to his Garland meeting demonstrates how Republicans have been able to maintain their blockade in the face of the nominee’s long resume and personal charm by leaning on the argument laid out by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the day Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was announced: Let the next president decide.

Hatch, in the op-ed, praises Garland’s “character and credentials” and his “excellent reputation” in the legal community. “I met with Judge Garland as a personal friend and out of respect for his position as a distinguished federal judge,” he writes.

But he continues: “This decision is about the confirmation process and has nothing to do with the qualifications, character or record of the nominee. The reasons for considering a nominee after the political fireworks of a presidential election remain just as compelling today as they were in February following Justice Scalia’s death. In fact, the bitterness, pressure tactics, ad campaigns and political grandstanding since then have only confirmed that we made the right decision.”

Hatch’s meeting with Garland would the the judge’s 16th meeting with a GOP senator. Freire declined to say when the meeting is scheduled, and the White House, which is managing Garland’s meetings with senators, declined to comment.

This article was updated with comment from Edwards.