STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Yesterday, a man stood in the U.S. Senate to offer a very different view. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the man who first said the Senate would not consider any nominee by this president. He said he was following a principle, avoiding a nomination fight in an election year. Yesterday, McConnell also signaled what is really at stake for Republicans, a fear that a Democratic nominee replacing a conservative justice would shift the balance of the court.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: When it comes to filling the current Supreme Court vacancy, which could fundamentally alter the direction of the court for a generation, Republicans and Democrats simply disagree. We simply disagree. Republicans think the people deserve a voice in this critical decision. The president does not. So we disagree in this instance. And as a result, we'd logically act as a check and balance.
INSKEEP: That's Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday. Now NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang has been covering the president's drive to overcome McConnell's opposition. She's in our studios. Good morning, Ailsa.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So how's the president's effort going?
CHANG: Well, not much has changed. There are a few Republican senators now who say that they are willing to meet with Merrick Garland - about five or six. But two of that small number of senators, two of them have said from the outset that there should be a full confirmation process - a full hearing and a confirmation vote for the nominee. Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois had said that weeks ago. So the fact that there are just a few more Republicans willing to meet, who knows how much of a difference that'll make?
INSKEEP: The great mass of Republicans are still on board with Mitch McConnell, not going anywhere, right?
CHANG: That's absolutely right. And remember, a meeting is not the same thing as a hearing. And it's not the same thing as a confirmation vote. So no matter how many meetings take place, the confirmation process may still never get started.
INSKEEP: Now, let's just remember, it is an election year. It's an election year for many senators. In fact, the Senate could plausibly change hands this year. Democrats are gearing up for a kind of campaign over this. That leads to my question. Do Democrats really have leverage? Is it really possible they can put enough pressure on Republicans that Republicans would care?
CHANG: Well, if you talk to Republican campaign strategists, they say that this issue about the Supreme Court is an issue that mainly animates the base. It doesn't really get the independent or swing voters riled up. And those are the voters in purple states that embattled Republicans really need to be vying for - states like Pennsylvania, states like Ohio, New Hampshire. So the idea is, you know, the base may be really crazy about this issue. But it's not something for vulnerable senators to really worry about.
INSKEEP: Passionate Democrats care about this. But they weren't going to get those votes anyway, is what Republicans are thinking. Is that right?
OK, Ailsa, thanks so much.
CHANG: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang, speaking on this morning that we're also hearing from President Obama, arguing that his Supreme Court nominee should get a hearing.
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