GOP prepares to fight Obama nominee — no matter whom he picks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court fight is about to get personal.

Republicans prepared Monday to unleash a torrent of activity opposing President Barack Obama‘s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. As the president neared an announcement, he vowed to nominate a “consensus candidate” of Supreme Court caliber with impeccable credentials.

“I’m going to abide by my constitutional duties,” Obama told CNN en Espanol. He said he expects Senate Republicans “to do so as well.”

The Republican Party launched a task force housed to orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach, party officials said. They want to bolster a strategy that Senate Republicans adopted as soon as Justice Antonin Scalia died last month: refusing to consider an Obama nominee out of hopes that the next president will be a Republican.

The Republican National Committee will contract with America Rising Squared, an outside group targeting Democrats that’s run by a longtime aide to GOP Sen. John McCain. GOP chairman Reince Priebus said it would be the most comprehensive judicial response effort in the party’s history.

Priebus said the RNC would “make sure Democrats have to answer to the American people for why they don’t want voters to have a say in this process.”

Echoing that strategy, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network said it was spending upward of a quarter-million dollars on TV and digital ads targeting three appellate judges Obama has considered for the job: Sri Srinivasan, Merrick Garland and Jane Kelly. The group’s move to attack candidates even before Obama had announced his selection underscored conservatives’ insistence that nobody Obama nominates will be confirmed in an election year.

“This is Exhibit A of Republicans putting political considerations at the RNC ahead of their constitutional duties,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Obama is expected to announce his pick as early as this week, touching off a heated battle as Obama and Democrats try to pressure Republicans into relenting on hearings and a vote. Longtime Obama allies have been drafted to run a Democratic effort that will involve a bevy of liberal groups that hope an Obama nominee to replace the conservative Scalia could pull the high court’s ideological balance to the left.

Amy Brundage, a former White House aide helping to organize the Democratic communications push, said the effort would target specific states where they believe Republicans will feel political heat for opposing hearings once Obama has a living, breathing nominee to promote. She said Democratic groups would organize events with Democratic lawmakers as well as legal scholars, law school deans, state attorneys general and historians.

“The coordinated grassroots effort that has already proven a powerful tool to put pressure on Republicans will only ramp up,” Brundage said.

In an unusual criticism of a colleague from the same state, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., cited comments that GOP Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson made last week about the nomination process. In a Wisconsin radio interview, Johnson said “there’s a little more accommodation to it” if a conservative president were nominating another conservative to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

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