By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Monday took the political battle over his pick for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court to the home states of seven Republican senators up for re-election in November.
Obama conducted interviews with local television anchors where he argued that Republican senators should hold confirmation hearings and vote on his nomination of appellate Judge Merrick Garland to the top court.
“What my argument is: Let the American people see Judge Garland, let him answer questions, let them hear his responses,” the Democratic president told WDAF-TV FOX 4 in Kansas City, Missouri, a market that straddles states where Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas are up for re-election.
Republican leaders have been resolute that Obama’s successor, who will be elected on Nov. 8 and take office on Jan. 20, should fill the vacancy left by February’s death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans are hoping their party’s candidate wins the presidency and can make the appointment.
The court is now split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals, meaning Scalia’s successor could influence its ideological direction for years to come.
Obama has argued the Senate has a responsibility to formally consider Garland’s nomination, telling ABC affiliate WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire, that the judge was “maybe the most qualified nominee that we’ve seen before the Senate for a Supreme Court seat.”
New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents. She met with Garland but wants the Senate to wait until after the election to act on the nomination.
“I know that folks like Senator Ayotte met with him and the fact that they’re not calling a hearing or vote means they’re not doing their job,” Obama said in the interview.
In a separate interview with WMUR, Ayotte defended her position.
“In my view waiting for the election, we are in the midst of a presidential nomination process, to have the people weigh in the election in November is important considering we have a 4-4 court,” she said.
Obama also talked with a television anchor from Iowa, home to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who has helped lead efforts to block Garland.
The president spoke as well with anchors from Ohio, where Senator Rob Portman faces a competitive re-election race; Wisconsin, where Senator Ron Johnson is running again; and Phoenix, home to Senator John McCain of Arizona.
(Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Eric Walsh, David Alexander and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Peter Cooney,)