Rarely has a White House meeting between the president and congressional leaders seemed, on the surface, so pointless.
President Obama on Tuesday convened Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley in the Oval Office, ostensibly to discuss his plans for nominating someone to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. (Vice President Joe Biden, Minority Leader Harry Reid, and Grassley’s Democratic counterpart, Senator Patrick Leahy, also sat in to provide some balance.)
Yet was there really anything to talk about?
McConnell has made it abundantly clear that he won’t allow the Senate to even consider a nominee in the final year of Obama’s term—no hearings, no vote, not even a courtesy meeting. And in case anyone thought he would buckle under a hard sell from the president, the Kentucky Republican reiterated his stance Tuesday morning on the Senate floor, in a speech to House Republicans, and in an op/ed on the website of a local TV station. He said he hoped instead to discuss other issues before the Senate, beginning with legislation to address the opioid crisis.
Publicly, Democrats insist that McConnell’s position will be politically unsustainable once Obama makes his pick, which he is expected to do in the next couple of weeks. Senate Republicans, including Grassley, up for reelection in November have already taken hits over the hard-line stance, and a few have broken with McConnell to suggest that the Senate should at least grant the forthcoming nominee a hearing and maybe a vote.