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Durbin says 'several Republican senators' open to a Biden Supreme Court pick

"I want to make this a bipartisan vote for the filling of this vacancy," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin told reporters.
Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks to members of the media during a pen and pad briefing in the U.S. Capitol on Jan 31, 2022.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks to reporters Monday at a briefing in the U.S. Capitol.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Monday that he has spoken to Republican senators who sounded open to supporting President Joe Biden's eventual Supreme Court nominee to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

Durbin, D-Ill., who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters he has "spoken and texted to several Republican senators that I think may be open to the idea — no promises made — of considering a Biden nominee for the court."

"I'm going to continue that outreach on the floor this afternoon and this evening and throughout this week," Durbin said, without naming names. "That’s my goal. I want to make this a bipartisan vote for the filling of this vacancy. It's not only good for the Supreme Court; it’s good for the Senate."

He said of his GOP colleagues: "I just want them to feel that they've been treated fairly and given the right opportunity. My list is longer than you would initially imagine."

Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities in the 50-50 Senate. If they stick together, they won't need any Republican votes to confirm Biden's nominee.

In response to a question from NBC News, Durbin noted that in the evenly divided Judiciary Committee, which is expected to hold a confirmation hearing, the rules require a majority of senators present to make up a quorum and conduct business. That means at least one GOP member must be present, regardless of his or her vote on whether to advance the nominee to the full Senate. He expressed confidence that Republicans wouldn't seek to boycott a hearing and slow the confirmation process.

"I don't think that's going to occur," he said. "I think they will accept their constitutional responsibility in the process. There may be one or two dissenters on their side, but most of the senators feel on both sides that this is a moment where we need to do our constitutional duty."

Durbin said he has a good working relationship with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the committee, adding that they plan to visit the White House on Tuesday to discuss the vacancy.

Biden vowed during the 2020 presidential campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if he were given the opportunity.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Monday that he has “no problem with the president making that pledge during the campaign."

"I would love to vote to put the first Black woman on the court,” Blunt added.

Durbin said Monday that Democrats aren't trying to match the rapid 27-day confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which Republicans rushed through right before the 2020 election. He declined to discuss potential nominees but said there are benefits if the woman is a sitting judge.

"Historically that’s been the standard," Durbin said. "Being a sitting judge is important. There’s nothing spelled out in the Constitution that requires it. But certainly it makes the argument more credible."

Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Monday that he is "anxious" for Biden to name — and the Senate to confirm — a nominee to fill Breyer's seat.

"I think they're all excellent names," Manchin said of the Black women floated as Biden’s potential picks. "I think it's great to have this many qualified — I mean, extremely qualified — people that can serve and, I think, serve justice."

Manchin suggested that if Biden appoints somebody the Senate has already confirmed to the lower courts, the process would move more expeditiously.

"I mean, there’s a process we go through. It has to go to the Judiciary Committee first, but I think that basically, I mean, especially if it's somebody who's already been vetted, that we put on one of the benches before, circuit, district, that'll make it go even quicker," he said.

A White House spokesman confirmed Friday that U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs is one of "multiple individuals under consideration for the Supreme Court."

In addition to Childs, other high-profile contenders include federal appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger. A source familiar with the White House’s process said last week that two other women are under consideration: New York University law professor Melissa Murray and U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright of Minnesota.

Over the weekend, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who has voted for many of Biden's judges, spoke highly of Childs, a judge in his home state, South Carolina.

"Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America. You know, we make a real effort as Republicans to recruit women and people of color to make the party look more like America," Graham said Sunday on CBS's "Face The Nation."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday that Biden should "govern from the middle" and noted that he is dealing with "a dead-even Senate, 50-50."

“I suggest that President Biden bear this in mind as he considers whom to nominate to our highest court," McConnell said on the Senate floor.