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Saturday, August 19, 2017

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican leaders of the Senate on Tuesday rebuffed President Barack Obama’s appeal for hearings and a vote on his U.S. Supreme Court nominee during a face-to-face meeting that failed to budge them from their vow to block any nominee he offers.

Obama, planning to name a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia in the coming weeks, huddled with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in the White House Oval Office for less than an hour.

“Senator Grassley and I made it clear that we don’t intend to take up a nominee or to have a hearing,” McConnell told reporters after the meeting.

The meeting failed to produce any progress on how to proceed with finding a replacement for Scalia, a long-serving conservative justice who died on Feb. 13.

McConnell and Grassley are insistent that Obama not pick a nominee and leave the decision to his successor, who takes office next January after the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election. Obama is insistent that it is the Republican-led Senate’s constitutional duty to act on his nominee.

“They made clear in their meeting with the president that they’re not going to change their mind just because the president says so,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said of the Republicans.

Earnest said Obama still believes it was worthwhile to consult with the lawmakers before making his nomination.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Obama stated during the meeting he would be willing to consider candidates for the Supreme Court proposed by the Republicans, but McConnell and Grassley offered no names.

“We killed a lot of time talking about basketball and other stuff,” said Reid, who attended along with the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy.

Under the Constitution, the president nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate must confirm them. Without Scalia, the court has four conservative and four liberal justices, meaning any potential Obama nominee could tip the court to the left for the first time in decades.

McConnell and Grassley have said allowing the next president to pick the new justice would let voters have a say in the selection when they elect a new president.

“Whether everybody in the meeting today wanted to admit it, we all know that considering a nomination in the middle of a heated presidential campaign is bad for the nominee, bad for the court, bad for the process and ultimately bad for the nation,” Grassley said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Will Dunham)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd R) meets with the bipartisan leaders of the Senate to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, at the White House in Washington March 1, 2016. From L-R: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Vice President Joe Biden, Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). REUTERS/Yuri Gripas