WASHINGTON — It was a balance-of-power breakfast.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, hosted Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, in the Senate dining room on Tuesday morning. Yogurt parfait was not the point. But what was? Almost all Senate Republicans have made clear they will not consider any Supreme Court nomination as long as Mr. Obama is president.
But while the outcome for Mr. Garland may be preordained, at least for this year, the resolution of the political fight over the court vacancy is far from certain. And the stakes, for the presidential election and for control of Congress, could not be higher.
Mr. Grassley, who is up for re-election and has the power as Judiciary Committee chairman to convene confirmation hearings, has come under pressure in Washington and Iowa for refusing to do so.
With that in mind, perhaps Mr. Grassley, for the benefit of voters back home, hoped to appear to be doing something — at least showing Judge Garland the courtesy of breakfast at the Capitol — when he was actually doing nothing.
Or, in the inside-out ways of Washington, Mr. Grassley might have been trying to make doing something — holding a substantive conversation with the president’s nominee — look like doing nothing, to avoid drawing the ire of Republican leaders who have maneuvered forcefully against Judge Garland’s confirmation.
Fourteen Republicans and all Democrats are needed to break a filibuster and confirm the nominee.
Only two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, have called for hearings and a vote on Judge Garland’s nomination. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has made it clear that further defections will not be tolerated.
Mr. Grassley never seemed entirely comfortable with an all-out blocking effort. Still, he signed a written pledge not to act on the nomination. Either way, the stated purpose of Tuesday’s get-together was for Mr. Grassley to explain in person why Senate Republicans were not going to allow Mr. Obama to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Or, put another way, it was to deliver a lesson on the balance of powers: The Constitution gives the president the authority to nominate justices, but the power to advise and consent lies with the Senate. Translation for Judge Garland: Your nomination is not happening this year.
And yet, their conversation lasted for nearly an hour — longer than many of the meetings Judge Garland has had with Democrats. Judge Garland had eggs and toast. Mr. Grassley opted for oatmeal. Despite the seemingly tough odds, White House officials were still hoping for a breakthrough.
That did not seem very likely, based on Mr. Grassley’s description of the breakfast as “pleasant” in a Twitter post. He added that he had explained to Judge Garland why the Senate would not be moving forward with his nomination.
Judge Garland, who has developed a reputation of punctuality at the Capitol, arrived 20 minutes before the 8 a.m. breakfast. Mr. Grassley, who is known for waking early and jogging at 4 a.m., was apparently already in the dining room. Neither man spoke to reporters before or afterward.
Judge Garland and his entourage left the dining room shortly before 9 a.m., apparently only to realize that Judge Garland’s next meeting, with Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, was also tentatively scheduled in the dining room.
Continuing to make the rounds, Judge Garland met later in the day with Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. The meeting lasted an hour, though it had been expected to take just 30 minutes.
Despite finding Judge Garland a “very, very smart, very knowledgable, very pleasant individual,” Mr. Toomey said he had come out “more convinced” that the next president should choose the nominee.
“Based on a number of decisions and my conversation with Judge Garland, I’m not convinced that he would be willing to play the role of a sufficiently aggressive check on an administration,” he told reporters after his meeting.
Merrick B. Garland is a candidate who had support from Republicans in the past but would still move the court in a progressive direction.
Ms. Murkowski said she had used her meeting with Judge Garland as an opportunity to talk about her home state.
Mr. McConnell, at a news conference, was unmoving, and aides said he did not particularly care how many Senate Republicans granted Judge Garland a “courtesy” visit — a number that continues to grow. The judge is scheduled to meet later this week with Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeff Flake of Arizona. And Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, an influential former Judiciary Committee chairman, said on Tuesday that he, too, would be willing to see Judge Garland.
Mr. McConnell, at his news conference, focused on the bottom line. “The fundamental point here we’ve made over and over again is who ought to make the appointment, and 52 senators have said they believe the next president ought to make this appointment,” he said.
Democrats claimed cracks were showing in Republicans’ resolve. They also undertook a new line of attack, urging Republicans to bring the questioning of Judge Garland out from behind closed doors.
“It’s really a step toward sanity that Republicans are finally meeting with Judge Garland,” the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said at a news conference. “Not many, but there’s some meetings.”
“But private breakfast meetings, people going out the back stairs, is not much transparency,” Mr. Reid said. “What Senator Grassley has to do is schedule a full and transparent hearing so the public can evaluate that this good man is qualified for the job of the nation’s highest court.”
Democrats also gleefully distributed local news coverage from Iowa of a diner that had agreed to a request by liberal groups to offer up some new specials in honor of the meeting between Mr. Grassley and Judge Garland. The restaurant, the Ritual Cafe in Des Moines, was planning to serve Obstruction Oats — oatmeal topped with hemp nuts — and Garland Granola, The Associated Press reported, as well as a Justice Delayed Bowl: steamed eggs roasted with peppers and olives.
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