By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will press leaders of the Republican-led U.S. Senate on Tuesday to allow confirmation hearings and a vote on his nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court despite their repeated vows not to act on anyone he selects.
Obama, planning to name a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia in the coming weeks, was due to meet at 11:30 a.m. EST at the White House with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley.
The president and Republican senators are at odds over whether Obama should select a replacement for Scalia, a long-serving conservative member of the court who died on Feb. 13, in an election year. Without Scalia, the court now has four conservative and four liberal justices, meaning that any potential Obama nominee could tip the court to the left for the first time in decades.
Under the Constitution, the president nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate must confirm them. But the Senate’s Republican leaders have pledged not to consider any nominee put forward by Obama.
Ahead of the meeting, Grassley and McConnell wrote separate opinion pieces on Tuesday reiterating their position that Scalia’s former seat should remain vacant until Obama’s successor takes office next January and can choose a nominee.
Grassley and McConnell said leaving the seat open would allow the American people to have a say in the selection when they pick a new president in the Nov. 8 election.
“Our decision is based on the principle that in our American system of representative government the people should be empowered to weigh in on such a consequential decision, the direction of the Supreme Court,” Grassley wrote in the Des Moines Register in his home state of Iowa.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday Obama was committed to having a serious discussion with the lawmakers about his “constitutional responsibility” to appoint a successor to Scalia and how he would like to see the process play out.
“We’ll have to see if Republicans are also committed to that kind of serious conversation,” Earnest said. “Maybe they won’t be, and if they aren’t, then maybe it will be a shorter-than-expected meeting.”
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, will also attend the White House meeting.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Will Dunham)