The administration feels like it has the advantage — and plans to press the pace in April.
With small cracks emerging in the Republican Supreme Court blockade — and private indications from some GOP senators that they’d likely back Merrick Garland if he ever did come up for a vote — the White House is preparing to press its perceived political advantage when senators return from their recess next week.
The next month will be all about meetings: The Supreme Court nominee will have met with 10 senators as of Wednesday, and the White House is looking to load his schedule full with the 52 additional senators (including 16 Republicans) who’ve said publicly they’ll see the judge once they're back from the two-week break.
That will bring them to the next, one-week recess in May. Once senators get back from that time in their home states, the White House will shift its focus to calling for hearings: Garland has met with everybody who’s been willing to see him, they’ll argue, including a majority of the Senate.
"It’s a game of inches at this point, but if you continue to put inches on the board, you cover some distance,” said one White House aide.
White House aides say they have been surprised that they’ve made as much progress as they have in the two weeks since President Barack Obama nominated Garland.
And while they’re still skeptical Garland will get anywhere near being confirmed, the West Wing does at least see a path forward, if only for strengthening the case they'll make against Republican senators going into the fall elections.
The calendar will inform the strategy throughout: The administration thinks it can capitalize on the end of the current Supreme Court term in June — and the possibility of more high-profile decisions deadlocking on 4-4 splits — coming just before the Senate’s summer recess.
None of this eliminates the White House’s fundamental problem: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have been very clear they’re not moving.
That’s despite the hammering Grassley’s been taking from Iowa newspapers.
Asked after a town hall Monday in Ocheyedan, Iowa, whether he feels he’s doing the right thing, amid all the questions and pressure about obstruction at home, Grassley expressed confidence.
“I’m being consistent with the past history of people in both political parties speaking out on this issue,” he said.