KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland headed to Capitol Hill today. Face-to-face meetings are a courtesy that senators traditionally extend to nominees. But the only visits on Garland's schedule today were with Democrats. Here to talk about the awkward spectacle is NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang. And, Ailsa, when a Supreme Court nominee makes his or her first rounds with senators, it's usually a gracious, kind of ceremonial affair. I mean, what was it like today?
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Yeah, I mean, traditionally this is a very proud day. It's supposed to be Merrick Garland's big rollout on the hill. And usually a Supreme Court nominee will first meet with the top Senate leader in each party and the top senator on the Judiciary Committee in each party. But today Garland only met with Minority Leader Harry Reid and the top Democrat on judiciary Patrick Leahy, neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, nor the Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley were on Garland's schedule today.
MCEVERS: But I do understand that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already had a conversation with Garland. Is that right?
CHANG: Yes, that's true. He phoned it in yesterday.
CHANG: McConnell's spokesperson said the leader preferred to talk on the phone in order to, quote, "avoid putting Judge Garland through the unnecessary political routines." He told Garland that he will not have a face-to-face meeting with him because there will be no confirmation vote for him this year. But we are told that McConnell did wish Judge Garland well. And as for Chairman Grassley, the White House said yesterday that Grassley's office had agreed to a meeting with Garland in a couple weeks. But today Grassley said he made no such promise. He said he told Garland actually something quite different on the phone yesterday. Here's how he put it.
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CHUCK GRASSLEY: What I said to him was you call back, and we'll talk about it at that point. I expect him to call back. I'll take that conversation, and I'll decide what to do at that particular point.
CHANG: But we are hearing that about five to six Senate Republicans are saying right now that they would be willing to meet with Garland. Democrats are hoping that number will grow.
MCEVERS: We've heard talk about confirming Garland this year after the election, during the lame-duck session. What is your sense - are Republicans on board with that?
CHANG: Well, we're hearing from just a few that they might be receptive to that idea. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who's on judiciary, said he'd be open. Jeff Flake of Arizona also said he would be open to confirming Garland this year if the election does not go the way Republicans want it to go.
But Republican leadership is not on board. In fact, John Cornyn of Texas, who's the number two Republican in the Senate, called the idea completely unacceptable, that it would go against this principle of waiting for the next president. But for senators like Flake, what's more important than that principle is the balance of the court. He says Republicans should try to get the most conservative nominee they can. And therefore, if a democrat becomes the next president, they should absolutely settle for Merrick Garland now because he's a moderate, and who knows if the next president would nominate someone more liberal?
MCEVERS: That's NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang. Thank you very much.
CHANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.