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Alito Filibuster Vote Haunts Obama

Obama returns to the White House on Tuesday night after hosting a summit with Asian leaders in California. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)

The White House is defending President Barack Obama’s vote as a senator to filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court by saying, unlike Senate Republican leaders now, he had “substantive” concerns. But the president acknowledged that Democrats didn't do a good enough job making the case for those concerns, a spokesman said.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., backed by about two dozen members of his caucus, wants to wait for the next president to select a replacement for the late Antonin Scalia, the conservative justice found dead on Feb. 13. Much has been made in the past few days about Obama’s 2006 vote to block Alito’s ascension to the high court. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday called then-Sen. Obama’s vote a “symbolic” one, intended to register his opposition rather than block the appointment. That vote on a specific nominee, Earnest said, is far different from the Republican leaders' suggestion that they will not consider any nomination in an election year.  

“The president's objections to then-President [George W.] Bush's nominee were based in substance,” Earnest said “The president [Obama] considered the qualifications and worldview and credentials and record of the individual that President Bush put forward, and then Sen. Obama raised some substantive objections."  

Obama, a decade later, believes he and his Senate Democratic mates “didn't focus more on making an effective public case about those substantive objections.”  

“Instead, some Democrats engaged in a process of throwing sand in the gears of the confirmation process,” Earnest said. “And that's an approach that the president regrets.”  

It is rare for Obama or his top aides to publicly admit he has regrets.  

Earnest also indicated it could be weeks before Obama submits a nominee to the Senate.  

“I think the best I can do is remind you that when two Supreme Court vacancies occurred earlier in this presidency, the president put forward two well-qualified nominees after spending about a month or so deciding on who that should be,” he told reporters.  

“I don't know if the time frame will be different this time around, but the recent history here at least seems relevant,” Earnest added.  

Obama’s chief spokesman also refused to rule out a recess appointment, a move that would send Republicans’ anger with Obama into a lava-hot boil.  

The White House will take its time to find a nominee it believes is an “indisputably qualified individual to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court,” Earnest said.  

Notably, individuals Obama considered the last two times he filled a high court vacancy are in play.  

“Just because you were considered before doesn’t mean you cannot be considered again,” Earnest said with a smile. That means a number of minorities and women are likely being discussed at the White House.  

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @BennettJohnT. Related: Obama's Successor Could Oversee High Court Makeover The Long, Sophisticated Fight to Come Over the Supreme Court Opening See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. NEW! Download the Roll Call app for the best coverage of people, politics and personalities of Capitol Hill.