WASHINGTON — Unfailingly punctual, he enters the office without a word. He shakes hands with staff members who rise hastily from their desks, and studies the home state curios on the walls. He is ushered in behind closed doors, and within the hour he leaves as quietly as he came, occasionally slipping out a back exit with his retinue.
Then comes the statement, from one Republican senator after another: I had a pleasant visit with Judge Merrick B. Garland. He is an intelligent, talented jurist. However, I cannot support considering his nomination to the Supreme Court.
With this tango of praise and rejection, the once sacrosanct process of filling a Supreme Court seat has taken a surreal turn. In the past, even eyebrow-raising nominees received a hearing and a vote. But Senate Republican leaders have said for nearly two months that Judge Garland, a relatively uncontroversial nominee, will get neither.
White House officials have not blinked in this staring contest. They have scheduled meetings with any senator who will return their messages — 46 to date, including 14 Republicans. This to-and-fro has left Judge Garland, broadly regarded as a leading legal mind, looking a little like the earnest leaflet-clutching visitors who hope to raise awareness for their cause and grab a sandwich in the Senate cafeteria.
The situation seems poised to grow only more complicated, with Donald J. Trump wearing the fire-engine-red baseball cap of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
While Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has been implacable in his opposition to considering the nomination, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said his party should be pragmatic. If the Republicans lose the presidential election, he said, that might mean confirming Judge Garland in the lame-duck session before the Democratic victor could make a new — and potentially more liberal — nomination.
“If we come to September and we have a certain candidate, that it doesn’t look promising, then we may want to reconsider,” Mr. Flake said with a coy smile.
Democrats, meanwhile, are maintaining their optimism as the Senate returns this week from a recess, citing polls saying that most Americans think the Senate should consider Judge Garland’s nomination. They point to each incremental concession — a word of admiration here, a courtesy meeting there — as proof of Republicans’ weakening resolve.
During the recess last week, the Democrats followed home some of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents, with Mr. Obama giving regional television interviews and the group Americans United for Change driving around billboards to urge action on the nomination.
And on Monday, the White House said that Judge Garland would submit a detailed questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday detailing his experience and credentials. Usually a routine step, the move this time is another tactic to pressure senators to act.
The nomination impasse has become a serious campaign issue, said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader.
“All you have to do is look at the Republicans’ numbers, which are dropping significantly,” he told reporters on Thursday. “And I think there’s going to come a time in the near future when even they’re going to say: ‘Oh, Mitch, I’ve had enough of this. Let’s go ahead with this hearing and have a vote and get this over with.’”
Mr. McConnell, however, has emphasized that nearly every Republican senator agrees that the next president should get to nominate a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. (Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois have been the lone holdouts, calling for Judge Garland to get full consideration.)
It is rare for the Senate to reject a Supreme Court nominee — the last time it did so was in 1987, when it voted against Robert H. Bork after an ugly political battle. In 2005, Harriet E. Miers, President George W. Bush’s White House counsel, withdrew amid questions about her fitness for the court and her stance on issues like abortion.
But even Ms. Miers, the 10th and most recent nominee to fail without a confirmation hearing, was expected to receive a hearing, albeit a potentially rough one, given the lackluster reviews of her meetings with senators.
No president in at least the past century has had a Supreme Court nominee go unconfirmed on the grounds that it was an election year, according to Scotusblog, which covers the court.
Calling on senator after senator in their offices, Judge Garland has filled the minutes with smiles and small talk.
Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, said he had met with Judge Garland because presidential nominees deserve such a courtesy. But they did not talk about judicial philosophy; Mr. Rounds said he had thanked him “for allowing the president to fulfill his part of the process.”
“From there we went on and talked about hiking in the Black Hills and other opportunities,” Mr. Rounds said.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat who said he had known Judge Garland for decades, dating to when Mr. Blumenthal was a United States attorney, said the judge seemed “tentative” when they met. But he brushed away the idea that Judge Garland feels discouraged.
“He knew he was getting into this situation, and he saw it as a service — and it is a service — to our country,” he said. “For him to endure this kind of grinding uncertainty and grilling, I think, is a service.”
The afternoon before the Senate recessed, Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the seven current Senate Republicans who voted in 1997 to approve Judge Garland’s nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said he had decided to sit down with him out of respect for his work bringing justice to the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Reflecting on the six weeks since Mr. Obama had named Judge Garland, Mr. Inhofe dismissed the notion that his nomination process, apparently leading nowhere, was odd.
“Doesn’t seem strange to me,” he said. “I just don’t know why we’re doing it.”
A few hours later, an email reached reporters: Having met with Judge Garland, Mr. Inhofe and Senator James Lankford, another Oklahoma Republican, said they remained opposed to considering his nomination.
The three men had not even emerged from behind the thick wooden doors of Mr. Inhofe’s office.
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