Judge Merrick Garland learned Thursday that there’s no blarney in the claims that the Supreme Court nomination process is grueling.
Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, got his first taste of the scrutiny he will face as President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, roughly 24 hours after he was thrust into the spotlight.
On Thursday afternoon, Garland came face-to-face with the press and the senators who are hoping to confirm him.
The judge participated in a somewhat awkward traditional photo op with Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., which involves smiling or engaging in quiet conversation as the cameras click away and video cameras shine lights in their direction.
And these were the easy stops. Garland has yet to schedule any visits with Senate Republicans, who say they are dead set against confirming a new justice in the final year of Obama’s presidential term. While a few GOP senators have agreed to meet with him those visits won’t come until next month.
In Leahy’s office Thursday, some hopeful reporters attempted to ask questions as the pair, both sporting green ties, sat in the senator’s personal office in front of a fireplace adorned with a few St. Patrick’s Day decorations. But Leahy’s answer was muffled as press staff herded the reporters out of the room.
Garland’s first meeting with a U.S. senator since he became the face of the standoff over the president’s nominee lasted roughly 15 minutes. Cameras greeted the pair as Leahy walked Garland down the hallway when the meeting was over.
“Welcome to Vermont on the Hill,” Leahy greeted the press corps gathered in an adjacent office.
“I had a good meeting with Chief Judge Garland. I’ve known him for a long, long time,” Leahy told reporters. He later added, “What you see is what you get with him.”
Leahy said the pair did not discuss politics. But, as to the prospects of Garland being confirmed when Republicans have vowed not to give him a hearing or vote, Leahy said, “I just told him what I thought I should happen and what I hoped would happen,” and declined to go into further details.
As the senator addressed the press, Garland headed to his second meeting of the day with Reid. The minority leader’s Capitol office is directly across a long hallway from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is one of a number of Republicans who have said they will not meet with Garland.
The nominee once again faced the press, standing with Reid in the entryway to his office, flanked by portraits of former presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The pair then went to Reid’s office, where they met for about 30 minutes while the press waited outside.
Reid emerged and said he had a “very nice meeting” with Garland.
“He and I were both trial lawyers. I was able to talk about some of my cases, and we had a good time just visiting about the law,” Reid said.
They also discussed Reid’s former aide and Garland’s former law clerk Serena Hoy, whose wedding Garland officiated in 2007. Reid also had some advice for the judge who is set to face scrutiny from lawmakers, the press and outside groups.
“I just told him to be himself, to be calm and collected, and I think that’s his nature anyway. He is a very smart man,” Reid said.
One reporter asked Reid if they discussed why Garland was willing to put himself in this situation.
“I didn’t have to do that. He answered that when he was standing next to the president,” Reid said. “If you’re a lawyer, a trial lawyer as he is, I mean this is the culmination of anybody’s legal life, to be selected to go on the Supreme Court of the Untied States. And I think he will be confirmed.”
“But if I were in his shoes, I’d be willing to take all the brick bats and piece of fruit thrown at him in different non-figurative ways,” Reid added. “He’s a tough man. He’s willing to take whatever they throw at him.”
The meetings came just as senators were wrapping up to head home for the Easter recess. Reid vowed to keep the pressure on Republicans to relent, noting that there are events being planned in Nevada and across the country over the recess.
“You’re going to be surprised at how hard we’re going to work to make sure this is still on the front pages of all the papers and the top news stories on all the electronic media,” Reid said.
Leahy, however, said he wouldn’t be participating in events over recess. “I’m not going to do some dog and pony show in Vermont or anywhere else on this,” Leahy told reporters.
Leahy did stress that the press shouldn’t expect to see Garland in front of their cameras any time soon. “Where [Garland] gets a chance to say anything is at a hearing. And that’s what he ought to have,” Leahy said.
Leahy entertained questions from the press for more than 20 minutes, before being cut short by a staffer. But he wished reporters well on his way out the door with a cheerful, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!”
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