WASHINGTON — Judge Merrick Garland found himself back on Capitol Hill on Thursday in a familiar place — meeting with a Democratic senator who complained about Republicans’ inaction on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.
Garland’s appearance was part of a campaign-season effort by Democrats to call voters’ attention to issues they want the GOP-run Congress to address. Also appearing on the Hill was Vice President Joe Biden.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, met with Garland, saying he wanted to “see how he’s doing.” Nearly six months ago, Obama nominated Garland to fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. Republicans have said they won’t act until the next president chooses a nominee.
“He’s had to wait longer than any nominee ever has,” Leahy told reporters. “We’ve got plenty of time. If they want to do their job, we could easily have the hearing and the confirmation in September.”
Asked if he’d seen signs that Republicans are wavering in their refusal to consider a nominee this year, Leahy said, “You’ll have to ask them.” The spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s led GOP opposition to Garland, said nothing has changed.
“The majority leader has been clear: The next president will make the nomination for this vacancy,” said spokesman Don Stewart.
Biden stood on the Capitol steps with around 75 congressional Democrats and said Republicans should confirm Garland, curb guns for people on terrorism watch lists and approve funds to combat the Zika virus. The group included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Referring to birth defects Zika can cause in children, Biden said, “If you care about them, wake up, man.”
A measure providing $1.1 billion in additional Zika funding has bogged down in the Senate amid partisan fights over restrictions Republicans sought on the money. Leaders are hoping for a resolution next week, and at least two GOP senators — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — said Thursday that the measure’s limits on funds for Planned Parenthood should be removed to reach a deal.
Separately, the Senate voted 92-0 to confirm P. Michael McKinley to be ambassador to Brazil. McKinley, who was born in Venezuela, has served as ambassador to Peru and Colombia and spent part of his youth in Brazil.
It was Garland’s first visit to Congress since he held dozens of individual meetings with senators in the spring.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.