WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Thursday the Supreme Court needs to operate with its full contingent of nine justices as he signaled he will soon announce his nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Republicans stood firm in opposition to an election-year confirmation of the president's pick, arguing that American voters should have a say in November and citing decades of precedence. Yet, one GOP senator suggested that Republicans would be more willing to act if Obama were a Republican.
Obama did not say when, exactly, he would reveal his candidate, whom Senate Republicans have vowed to ignore.
"If and when that happens, our system's not going to work," Obama said during a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "Our goal is to have them be objective and be able to execute their duties in a way that gives everybody, both the winning party and the losing party in any given case, a sense that they were treated fairly."
One GOP senator acknowledged that the Republican decision to block the nominee is, indeed, politics.
"If a conservative president's replacing a conservative justice, there's a little more accommodation to it," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a radio interview on WEKZ radio in Monroe, Wisconsin. Johnson has stood with other Senate Republicans in opposition to moving forward with any Obama nominee to replace Scalia, who died last month.
The host asked Johnson how things would have been different if Republican Mitt Romney were president. Johnson, who is in a tight re-election race against former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, said that would be a "different situation."
At the White House, Obama suggested his candidate's credentials would put added pressure on the GOP. He said he's looking for someone who "by historical standards, would not even be questioned as qualified for the court."
A source has told The Associated Press that Obama's top contenders include three appellate judges, each with a record of bipartisan backing and traditional judicial pedigree. They include Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Merrick Garland, chief judge on the same court, and Judge Paul Watford of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a source familiar with the selection process who would not be named discussing the private deliberations.
D.C. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is also under consideration, although a less likely option, the source said. Judge Jane Kelly from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has also reportedly been considered.
Obama said he is looking for a candidate who has the "necessary humility" and "recognizes the critical role that that branch plays in protecting minorities, to ensuring that the political system doesn't skew in ways that systematically leave people out."
Obama's top advisers hosted Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the White House to discuss the vacancy. Senators said afterward that no names and no precise timing were discussed, but they urged the president to move quickly. It will be harder for Republicans to hold their ground in the face of a "real, flesh-and-blood nominee," Sen. Chuck Schumer told reporters.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley dug in on blocking all action on an eventual nominee this year, saying Democrats are only criticizing the strategy to score political points.
Grassley, R-Iowa, said at a committee meeting Thursday that Democrats' efforts to pressure him to change his mind will be futile. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has delivered daily speeches on the Senate floor against Grassley, sometimes attacking him personally.
"I think we need to be crystal clear, it won't work," Grassley said.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the decision is "a serious and indeed unprecedented breach" of Senate process. One by one, Republicans on the committee defended Grassley and Democrats criticized the delay.
"I'm sorry if you feel the attention is directed toward you," Leahy said to Grassley, whom he described as a longtime friend. "It's not. It's not about you or me, it's about the Constitution."
Republicans argued that the Constitution does not give a timeline on how long it should take to confirm a justice. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former GOP presidential contender, said the fight is a product of Democratic efforts to block Republican nominees. He said the decision to put the process off in an election year is "the new rule," and challenged Democrats to use his words against him if the same thing happened under a Republican president.
"You can use my words against me, and you'd be absolutely right," Graham said.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, shot back: "To say if we make a mistake today, we'll make it again in the future doesn't give me any comfort at all."
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.
Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick