Senators: Obama soon to reveal pick for high court
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to announce his Supreme Court choice soon but isn’t saying who is being seriously considered, senators who met with him said Wednesday.
“I don’t envy him the decision, but I think he’s going to make it soon,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told The Associated Press after a private White House session. “I think when he goes out west today and tomorrow, he’s going to have a lot of stuff on the airplane with him.”
Obama was leaving later in the day to give a commencement speech at Arizona State University, while the debate simmers about the nomination of a successor to retiring Justice David Souter.
Asked if the president ran any names of candidates by the senators, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said: “No. No names.”
Obama’s bipartisan consultation came as he zeroed in on a nominee. Souter is part of the court’s liberal wing, and his replacement by the new Democratic president is not expected to change the high court’s ideological balance. Obama is widely expected to appoint a woman to replace Souter, and he is under pressure from some Latino officials to name the nation’s first Hispanic justice.
Obama met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on Judiciary; Leahy; and McConnell. Vice President Joe Biden, a former Judiciary Committee chairman and veteran of confirmation hearings, also attended.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama and senators reached agreement that the confirmation process “would be civil.”
Sessions said that Obama didn’t give a timeframe for his decision but indicated he wanted to get it done soon. “My impression was he doesn’t want to let it take too long,” Sessions told reporters on the White House driveway.
The White House has said Obama will not announce a decision this week. It appears increasingly likely, though, that he will do so before month’s end.
One official said none of the senators present at the closed-door White House meeting mentioned the names of any potential nominees.
“The president said we may disagree on how to vote on a nominee, but we can agree on the process, or the tone of it,” Sessions said. “I think that’s true.”
Obama wants his nominee confirmed before the Senate goes on recess for the summer in early August. But the senators would not commit to that.
Reid said the chamber would not be wedded to “arbitrary deadlines” and cautioned about the Judiciary Committee’s busy schedule.
“We’ll work out a decent schedule,” said Leahy, who promised a fair chance for Republicans and Democrats to ask questions during confirmation hearings. “Let’s get the nominee first.”
An emerging point of debate is Obama’s insistence that his nominee be someone who is willing to show “empathy” in making rulings. Some Republicans have balked at the notion, including Sessions, who wrote an op-ed in the Wednesday editions of The Washington Post prodding Obama not to pick someone who would rule based on personal feelings.
Asked whether that matter came up, McConnell said: “We did have a discussion about the importance of following the law, and not acting like a legislator on the bench.”
Should Obama make his pick shortly, that would leave June and July for his nominee to get through the vetting process, with voting presumably taking place in the Senate by August. It is possible, however, that the confirmation process would carry on into September.
Leahy said he saw no problem in having a nominee confirmed by the start of the new court session in October.
Associated Press writers David Espo and Chuck Babington contributed to this story.
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