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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 3/16/2016

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:50 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Always fun to cover a little history, right?  This has made plenty of news today.  I don’t think I have anything to add to it at this point.  But I’m happy to take your questions on the Supreme Court nomination or any other topics that you may have at the top of your list today.

So, Kevin, do you want to start?

Q    Yes, Josh, can you say when the President decided on Judge Garland as his choice?  And did Judge Garland hesitate to put himself through this process knowing that the Republicans have said they’re simply going to wait until next year to pick up this vacancy?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously the President has been hard at work in making the decision about the best person to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  As we’ve discussed, the President and his team consulted a wide array of individuals and organizations on both sides of the aisle.  Every Senate office was contacted by the White House to consult about potential nominees.  The President had multiple conversations with Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee about this decision.  And it’s only recently that the President made a final decision on this.  But it certainly reflected a lot of work and extensive consultation among legal experts and members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle.

As it relates to Chief Judge Garland, I’m not aware of any reticence on his part to accept this significant responsibility.  It certainly -- I don’t think anybody detected any reticence about that based on the public comments that he delivered this morning in the Rose Garden.

Q    Are you seeing any signs of a breakthrough with the Republicans that they will at least consider a confirmation hearing?  Is there a plan B?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there is a constitutional responsibility that members of the United States Senate have to consider the President’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.  It’s as simple as that.  And this is a case that we have been making for weeks now.  And I think the case that we have -- that the Senate should fulfill their constitutional responsibility -- is only strengthened now that it’s clear how seriously the President considered his constitutional responsibility.

He considered a wide range of candidates and he chose the person that he believes is the best person in America to fulfill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  There’s a reason that the last time that Chief Judge Garland faced a confirmation vote in the United States Senate, that he got the support of a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans in that vote.  That was 19 years ago.  But in that 19 years, he has blazed a trail of a judge who understands that his chief responsibility is to interpret the law and not advance a political agenda.

And that’s why we believe that the Senate should fulfill their responsibilities.  And it certainly is not appropriate for anybody in the United States Senate to suggest that they’re going to use politics as an excuse to not do their job. 


Q    Some groups on the left have said they’re not enchanted with the President’s choice.  They say it was designed to appease Republicans in the Senate rather than fire up the base.  Can you respond to their concern?  And was that the case?

MR. EARNEST:  The President’s choice was designed to find the very best person for the job.  And the President feels confident that that’s what he’s done.  That when you take a look at Chief Judge Garland’s credentials, you see that they are unquestioned in terms of his legal ability.  He is somebody with a demonstrated commitment to public service.  The President discussed in the Rose Garden how, early in his career, Chief Judge Garland willingly took a pay cut so that he could work as a federal prosecutor.  And he did work here in the District of Columbia, making neighborhoods in this city safer. 

And he certainly demonstrated a commitment to using his extensive legal training and his God-given ability to promote justice.  And that was true when he oversaw the investigation of the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing.  I think he’s justifiably proud of that service to the country.  The President certainly is proud of that service.  And I think it’s that commitment to public service and that commitment to not using his seat on the bench to advance a political agenda, but rather merely to interpret the law in pursuit of justice that has earned him bipartisan support in the past, and it’s certainly why we believe he deserves bipartisan support today.

Q    Just one other quick issue.  North Korea’s highest court sentenced the 21-year-old University of Virginia student to 15 years in prison with hard labor for allegedly attempting to steal a banner.  What is the administration’s reaction?  And is it going to take any specific actions in response?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, I can tell you -- and you’ve heard me say this before -- there is no greater priority for this administration than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad.  We understand, we’ve seen the reports that a North Korean court convicted a U.S. citizen, Otto Warmbier, of hostile acts against the DPRK.  Mr. Warmbier was reportedly sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, the allegations for which this individual was arrested and imprisoned would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States, or in just about any other country in the world. 

Now, despite official claims that U.S. citizens arrested in North Korea are not used for political purposes, it is increasingly clear that the North Korean government seeks to use these U.S. citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda.  This underscores the risks associated with traveling to North Korea.  And the Department of State strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea.  And there’s additional information about that on the State Department website.  And I encourage people to visit if for any reason they do happen to be considering travel to North Korea.

But now that Mr. Warmbier has gone through this criminal process, we strongly urge the North Korean government to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release.


Q    Josh, the President, in choosing Judge Garland, chose somebody who’s 63.  Some of his other candidates were roughly 15 years younger.  If this candidate, Judge Garland, is confirmed, that means the President’s legacy on the Supreme Court will be significantly shorter than it could have been if he had chosen someone who is younger.  Why not take that opportunity?  To what extent did age play a role in this decision?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, I’m not aware that age played any role in the President’s decision-making.

Q    Couldn’t it have?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, maybe there are some people who would suggest that it would have, but the President was looking for the very best person for the job.  And regardless of age, the President was focused on choosing somebody who has the proper temperament and the unquestioned legal credentials and a commitment to public service to do this job. 

And look, I think the other thing that people should understand is that Justice Ginsburg, when she was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Clinton, she was 60 years old.  When Justice Lewis Powell was nominated to the Supreme Court, he was even older than Chief Judge Garland is today.  So certainly his appointment -- or his age is -- well, let me say it this way.  He’s older than recent Supreme Court nominees, but he’s entirely within the sort of range of individuals who have the sufficient legal experience to demonstrate that they could serve with distinction on the United States Supreme Court.

Look, one thing you can say about him is that he’s 63.  The other thing you can point out is that he has more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in American history.  So certainly that kind of experience and that kind of track record I think only strengthens the case that we can make that the President has chosen the best person for the job.

Q    His qualifications are clearly impeccable.  But in choosing somebody who is the best qualified for the job, did the President not also consider choosing someone who could take advantage of this historic opening on the Court to last a little longer, considering the average lifespan of a white male is probably mid-70s?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as is true of everyone who is considered for an appointment like this, Chief Judge Garland underwent a physical and he is somebody who is in good health and certainly could serve for an extended period of time on the Supreme Court.  But, Jeff, I'll tell you, I know that there are some Presidents who previously sought to use an appointment to the Supreme Court to burnish their legacy, and we can sort of weigh the pros and cons on that.  I think the President is interested in a legacy that indicates a commitment to focusing on choosing the best person for the job. 

And I think the President’s track record over the course of choosing three nominees now to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, starting with Justice Sotomayor -- Justice Kagan followed shortly thereafter, and now Chief Judge Garland -- that the President’s legacy when it comes to choosing Supreme Court justices I think is going to stand up to anybody else’s.

Q    Do you think that's mutually exclusive, though, Josh, that to choose someone who is the best person for the job but also choose someone who could be there for 20 or 30 years?

MR. EARNEST:  No, not necessarily.  And, look, every potential candidate that the President considered brought along his or her own unique set of credentials and experiences.  And the President chose the person that he believes is the best person for the job.  And based on his commitment to public service, based on his long track record as a judge on the D.C. Circuit, I think it’s very difficult to argue that somehow the President didn’t do that.

Q    And one question on Syria, following up from yesterday.  Have you seen, or has the White House seen any evidence that Russia and President Putin are putting more pressure on Assad as a result of the decision to withdraw their troops?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I can say is that we have seen evidence of the Russian military following through on the public declaration that President Putin made to begin withdrawing at least some of their military from Syria.  As I noted in yesterday’s briefing, I do not anticipate that we'll be able to draw clear conclusions about what impact this changed military posture by the Russians will have on President Assad’s negotiating posture. 

The United States has been working aggressively with the international community to try to bring the Syrian government into talks with the wide array of opposition groups, and I've previously observed that the way that the Russian military has supported the Assad regime and helped him shore up his grip on power removed a little bit of the incentive to have him negotiate in good faith and toward the kind of political transition that's long overdue inside of Syria.

So at this point, it's too early to say that there’s been a dramatic change in a negotiating posture.  But we intend to work closely with the Russians and other international parties, including the United Nations and other countries that are allies of the United States, to try to push both sides together and engage in the kind of constructive talks that will lead to a political transition that's long overdue.

And, Jeff, we have long asserted that there’s no military solution to the situation in Syria, and that's why these political talks are so critically important.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  If Republicans don't confirm Judge Garland before the election, is there any possibility the President would withdraw him before the end of his term?  And I guess as a corollary to this, just in the last hour or so we've heard some suggestions from Senator Hatch and some others that they might be open to considering him after the elections, I guess, if Democrats win.  So what is your early reaction to the notion of a hold on this until after the election, and then some action?  Is that better than nothing, or so bad that you would just want to yank Garland start over?

MR. EARNEST:  There is absolutely no good reason to wait until the lame duck for the Senate to fulfill their duty to the Constitution and to the American people.  The President has put forward a nominee just today that is eminently qualified.  His credentials are unquestioned.  And dating back to over the last 30 or 40 years, the average time that a Supreme Court nominee has had to wait for confirmation in the United States Senate is 67 days.  And that’s why we believe there’s ample time for the Senate to do their job.  By following roughly that timeline, the Senate could take action in the form of a fair hearing and an up or down vote.  And what we would like to see is to see that process completed in that time frame.  And it would allow Chief Judge Garland to ascend to the Supreme Court and serve on the Supreme Court when the new Supreme Court term begins in October.

Stalling his nomination and preventing him from serving on the Supreme Court at the beginning of the next term would be obstruction on a scale that is unprecedented in the last 40 years or so.  It’s been more than four decades since the last time we saw a single Supreme Court vacancy have an impact on two different Supreme Court terms.

So as Leader McConnell wrote in an op-ed famously on the day after the midterm elections in 2014, he vowed to use his position of authority and the new Republican majority in the Senate to get Congress moving again.  We would welcome him following through on that promise and ensuring that the institution of the Senate functions as the Constitution and the American people expect.

Q    If I could just follow up.  Not to force him into a negotiation now five minutes after you put your guy out there, but, yes, sure, they could do all those things, but they're saying they won’t do any of those things.  And your calculation that Judge Garland was the best nominee is predicated on a number of things, including the position you're in now.

So if the Democratic nominee for President wins -- I mean, Garland was going to be your guy to replace a conservative a couple years ago, if that's what had happened.  It might have been a completely different calculation if you controlled the Senate and you were going to control the White House.  Would he still be your guy?  Forget it.  I know you're not going to answer that question.  (Laughter.)

I’m trying to get you to answer the question.  So the question is, you want them to act now; they're saying they're not going to act now.  Would you be willing to entertain a scenario where they're acting in November?  Or are you just going -- is your position absolutely not, we're not playing that game?

MR. EARNEST:  Our position is that there is no good reason that anybody can articulate for the Senate to wait until the lame duck.  There is no good reason.  The only reason that Republicans have put forward is politics.  There is nobody who thinks that our partisan political debate in this country should be extended to include the Supreme Court.  The Framers of our Constitution designed the Supreme Court to be insulated as much as possible from that kind of political debate.

Nobody is suggesting that politics should be fully extracted from it.  What we're suggesting is that politics should not prevent the basic institutional functioning of the United States Senate.  And the consequences are significant.  Having the process break down would be an unprecedented injection of partisan politics into the Supreme Court. 

And that would be bad for the Court.  It would be inconsistent with the Constitution.  And look, I’m not the only person that thinks this.  Plenty of Republicans have given voice to this view, including President George W. Bush’s attorney general who just today wrote an op-ed headline urging the Republicans in the Senate to give Chief Judge Garland a vote.  We wholeheartedly agree.


Q    Josh, the question is:  Does this nomination have an expiration date?

MR. EARNEST:  No, it doesn't.  The Senate should act --

Q    So the President will not pull this nomination in a lame duck?

MR. EARNEST:  I can't foresee why the President would do that.  We're urging primarily because there’s no reason it should take that long.  The fact is the Senate has a responsibility to act.  And recent precedent indicates that this should only take a couple of months.  That's the way that previous Supreme Court nominees --

Q    But aside from -- you're saying the President is not going to pull the nomination.  So if this doesn't get acted on until a lame duck, the President is not going to pull the nomination back?

MR. EARNEST:  The President has put forward the individual that he believes is the best person in America to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  And the President is going to stand by that nominee.  And the President will make a forceful case to Democrats and Republicans alike in the United States Senate that they should fulfill their constitutional responsibility to give him a fair hearing and a timely up or down vote.

Q    He stands by that nominee until January 20th, I assume?

MR. EARNEST:  The President stands strongly behind the nominee, and there’s no reason that he should be subjected to an unprecedented delay.

Q    Was Merrick Garland the first choice?

MR. EARNEST:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

Q    And he has, as a prosecutor, two very high-profile cases, sought the death penalty.  Is it safe to assume then that Merrick Garland does not believe that the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, I could imagine that this would be the kind of pointed question that Chief Judge Garland would face in a confirmation hearing.  And look, there is a long --

Q    Did this come up with his discussions with the President, though?  The death penalty is obviously -- this is an issue that the Court has --

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not going to get into the details of the kinds of conversations that they had leading up to the President making this decision.  I can tell you that the questions were focused around -- or the conversation was focused around Chief Judge Garland’s approach to the job, his approach to public service, his thinking about and understanding of the law.  And there was not a -- it’s not as if the President had a punch list of hot-button items that he used to quiz potential nominees.

The President is much more interested in an individual’s approach to the job knowing that interpreting the law based on the specifics of the case is what their responsibility is.

Q    And can I just ask you, he’s a Harvard Law grad.  The President has nominated a Yale Law grad and a Harvard Law grad in his two previous nominations.  I believe all eight justices currently on the Court attended either Harvard or Yale.  Of course, Ruth Bader Ginsburg ended up going to Columbia.  But they all spent time at Harvard or Yale Law.  Is it possible any more for somebody to be nominated to the Supreme Court who didn't go to Harvard or Yale?  What’s with that? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you that the President certainly believes that should be possible.  And I can tell you that --

Q    Well, why can't he not find anybody that didn't go to Harvard or Yale?  He’s had three chances now.

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not going to get into the details of that process.  But I can certainly tell you that the President carefully considered potential nominees that did not go to Ivy League law schools.


Q    Josh, a couple questions on this.  Did the President meet with Merrick Garland on Sunday here at the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  I can tell you that the President did have an opportunity to meet with Chief Judge Garland, but I’m not going to get into details beyond that.

Q    How recently was that?

MR. EARNEST:  The President did an interview with CNN Español last week.  And in that interview, the President indicated that he had begun moving forward with interviews.  And I can tell you that his interview with Chief Judge Garland occurred in that time frame.  But I don't have any more detail beyond that.

Q    Did he meet with anyone Sunday on this -- meeting the nominees? 

MR. EARNEST:  I’m just not going to go beyond that.

Q    Okay, next, there is a segment of this country, your constituents, who was hopeful from day one that there would be a Supreme Court nominee who could possibly -- not necessarily, but possibly fill the shoes of Thurgood Marshall.  And their hopes have been dashed now.  They’re feeling that there’s no more chance.  What do you say to some of those people who were hopeful -- were in the Rose Garden when the President made the announcement today, and they’re supporting the President but they’re still somewhat hurt by not having that potential?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I can tell you that the President considered a diverse array of candidates, and I think that's what you’d expect considering the diverse array of individuals that the White House consulted in advance of the President making his decision.  The President took that advice quite seriously and considered a diverse array of candidates.

The President ultimately settled on Chief Judge Garland for one reason, and one reason only, and that is simply that he believes that Chief Judge Garland is the best person in America to do that job.  And that's how the President made the decision.

At the same time, April, I can tell you that the President himself has talked on a number of occasions about how important it is to ensure that the federal bench is as diverse as the rest of the country.  And when you take a look at the President’s track record, it's quite strong.  That starts with the two previous appointments that the President has made to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court.  He appointed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court in the form of Justice Sotomayor.  He appointed the third and fourth women to serve on the Supreme Court in Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan.  He has appointed 117 minorities to the federal judiciary.  That's more than any other President.  He has appointed 26 African American women to the federal bench.  That is more than any other President.  He’s appointed 37 Hispanics to the federal bench.  That is more than any other President.  He’s appointed 20 Asians to the federal bench.  That is more than any other President.  And he has appointed 11 LGBT judges.  That is more than every other President combined.

So the President’s commitment to the principle of ensuring we have a judiciary that looks like the rest of the country is rock-solid.  And the other principle that he has strongly adhered to is making sure that he’s choosing the best person for the job, and I think he’s demonstrated over the course of his seven years in office that it is absolutely possible to do both.

Q    So clearly you were ready for this question.  Now --

MR. EARNEST:  You think?  (Laughter.)  I did my homework last night. 

Q    You really did.  But when it comes to the African American community, he has appointed more African American federal judges than any other President -- that is true.  But was that in, I guess, the mix at all when you were thinking of the possibility of the next Supreme Court justice, to bring it a step further?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what is true -- well, let me say a couple things about that.  One of the reasons the President does believe it's important to diversify the federal bench is that it’s important that we have judges who look like the rest of America.  And that certainly is an important part of this decision-making process.  The other thing that's important is that choosing someone to serve on the Supreme Court that has previous experience being a federal judge is, of course, not required, but it's a pretty good credential to bring with you.  And the fact that the President has just nominated Chief Judge Garland, somebody who has more federal judiciary experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in American history, I think is an indication that the President certainly prioritizes that kind of experience.

So it is certainly possible that by diversifying the federal bench more broadly the President is creating a more diverse array of choices for future Presidents as they consider nominees to fill future vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Q    And one last thing -- 97 percent and 93 percent of the African American vote went to President Barack Obama.  Does this reflect their hope in him and their push to make sure that he was President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what I feel confident in telling you is, to the extent that people have thought about this in some detail, that people are strongly supportive of the kind of criteria that the President has said he would use to choose a Supreme Court nominee.  And the President has made good on that promise in terms of choosing somebody who will interpret the law, somebody who will not be focused on advancing a politics agenda, and somebody who will understand that the decisions that are made at the federal bench have a real impact on the lives of Americans.  And somebody who understands that this is not just an intellectual exercise that's worthy of high-minded debates in the courtroom, that the kinds of issues -- particularly when we're talking about the Supreme Court -- those kinds of issues have a tangible impact on people’s lives. 

And I think we saw in the last Supreme Court term a pretty good illustration of that; that as the Supreme Court was focused on the merits of some of the difficult decisions that they had to make, there’s no denying the significant, real-world impact of the decision to uphold the constitutionality of Obamacare, or of the ruling that would allow gays and lesbians to get married in every state in the country. 

Yes, there are specific legal arguments that should be the focus of intense debate in the courtroom, but there also needs to be a recognition that that has a direct and significant impact on the lives of people all across the country.  That's the criteria that the President has used in choosing not just his Supreme Court nominees, frankly, but to every nominee that he put forward to the federal bench.  But certainly, as he described in the Rose Garden earlier today, that was part of the criteria that he used in selecting Chief Judge Garland.


Q    Josh, you didn’t really answer it when you were asked, when the President made his decision, you said only recently.  Could you be any more specific?

MR. EARNEST:  I can’t at this point.

Q    Why not?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what I would like to do is to continue to protect the President’s ability to make those kinds of decisions in private.  But we certainly have tried to be as transparent as we can about how the President made the decision in terms of what he was thinking about.  And that’s the aspect of this decision that I can do my best to describe to you.

Q    It couldn’t have been that recently if you got that video produced in time to post today.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, my colleagues in the Office of Digital Strategy can work pretty quickly.  I suspect that there are some members of that team that didn’t get much sleep last night.

Q    Can you tell us how you sneak the candidates into place?  (Laughter.)  We were told on the conference call that there were five meetings with candidates.  How do you get them in here?

Q    Early lid.

MR. EARNEST:  There are multiple entrances to the White House.  And we use all of them.

Q    Can we see the binder now that the decision has been made?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  I guess in some ways it’s a little famous now.  But no, I don’t anticipate that we’ll make that binder public.

Q    Last question on another issue.  Governor Snyder of Michigan is complaining that despite repeated requests, FEMA has turned down its appeals for emergency aid for Flint.  Can you explain why that is?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let’s start by saying that FEMA has actually provided extensive assistance to the state of Michigan.  There are personnel that continue to be on the ground in Michigan, and have been for months, distributing water and distributing water filters to businesses and residences in Flint.  Much of that water that is being distributed has actually been provided by FEMA.  So there has been extensive emergency assistance provided to the residence of that community.

What is also true, Mark, is that there is a law that describes very clearly exactly the conditions under which it is appropriate to declare a federal emergency.  And a manmade situation like the one that exists in Flint falls outside of those guidelines. 

So FEMA and the rest of the federal government has provided extensive assistance to Flint, but we have not done so under the auspices of a declared federal emergency.


Q    I just want to get a sense of what we’re going to see in the coming days and weeks, and how you’re going to make this happen -- because most of the time you were asked that question, you talked about the constitutional responsibility, so on and so forth.  We all know that.  Everybody knows that and everybody has got their arguments about how long it’s been since this happened, or that didn’t happen, or whatever.  So what as a practical matter is the White House going to do?  You mentioned on the call earlier that the judge has already started making calls up to the Hill.  Is the President going to make more calls?  Are we going to see public speeches?  Is there some discussion with the Clinton campaign, the Sanders campaign about talking about this on the campaign trail?  Can you just give us a sense of what we’ll see that’s evidence that you’re really trying to make this happen, besides just the talking about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there are a couple of things that I can try to tell you about from here.  As you point out, Chief Judge Garland will be traveling to Capitol Hill tomorrow, and he’ll begin the process of making courtesy visits to individual members of the United States Senate.  He’ll, of course, be focused on meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but I know that there are other members of the United States Senate who will ultimately have a vote who are pretty enthusiastic about having the opportunity to sit down with Chief Judge Garland and talk to him about this important appointment.  So that process will begin tomorrow.

Q    Are any Republicans on the list?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you that certainly Republicans have been asked whether or not, and when, they would receive Chief Judge Garland.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. EARNEST:  Well, actually, we’ve seen a number of them indicate a willingness to meet with him.  Senator Cochran has said, I will give any consideration to a nominee.  Senator Ayotte has said that, I would want to explain my position to the nominee and give him that courtesy.  We’ve seen both Senator Collins and Senator Flake indicate that they plan to meet with him.  Senator Collins described him as “my job.”  We’ve even seen Senator Inhofe -- somebody that I don’t charitably cite from this podium too often -- but even he today indicated that he will evaluate the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.  That’s a good thing primarily because, as I recall, he voted for Judge Garland in 1997 to confirm him to an appointment on the D.C. Circuit.

So we’ve seen a number of Republicans come forward and indicate that they would sit down with Chief Judge Garland.  And here’s the thing -- we demonstrated on the front end, from day one, that President Obama was committed to serious consultation with the United States Senate.  The President believed that that consultation was important prior to putting forward a nominee.  But the consultation doesn’t end there.  If anything, it only ramps up from there.  And so I would anticipate that in addition to Chief Judge Garland’s visits, that there will be additional conversations, including, at some point, at the presidential level about the need for the United States Senate to fulfill their constitutional duty.

Q    But you said in those discussions -- or they did on the call -- that the President offered people to put up names.  Did anyone put up Judge Garland’s name?  Did any Republicans put up his name?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you heard -- I’m not going to be at liberty to discuss the details of private presidential conversations.  But the good news is, is that the President occasionally is at the liberty -- takes liberty to do so.  And he described in the Rose Garden that frequently when he had discussions with Democrats and Republicans about who would make a good Supreme Court justice, that Chief Judge Garland’s name came up.  That, I think, is an indication of the kind of bipartisan or even consensus appeal that Chief Judge Garland has.  That is, after all, consensus.  That’s the word that Senator Hatch has use to describe Chief Judge Garland. 

So the President I think is serious about -- has demonstrated that he’s serious about doing his job, about being thoughtful, about working expeditiously, and putting forward a nominee, frankly, whose legal credentials I haven't seen anybody be really willing to argue.

Q    Do you think the President will have meetings again with Senator McConnell and Grassley directly?  Will he reach out to them now that there’s a nominee?  Because again, this is one of your -- you said that once the names comes up, things will change.

MR. EARNEST:  I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.  And I know that Chief Judge Garland is interested in sitting down with both Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley.  And hopefully he’ll have that opportunity. 

Q    And will you let us know if they say yes or no?  I would imagine it would be high on his list.  You’re going to start with the committee, I would imagine.

MR. EARNEST:  Sure.  What I can say is that I don’t think I can commit to every single conversation that Chief Judge Garland has being made public.  But there certainly will be extensive outreach, and there is genuine interest in talking to Republicans about his nomination.  And he will spend some time on Capitol Hill.  And when he does that, he’ll be in public.  And I suppose many of you will cross paths with him in the hallways.

Q    And this notion of -- this issue of diversity is a big deal.  And I’m wondering if the President has had direct discussions with civil rights activists, leaders from that community about the fact that he did not choose a person of color for this particular job.  And the other thing is, when you keep saying that he was the very best person for the job, clearly the President knows and is probably aware that that is something that’s often said, or has been over the years, to minority candidates for jobs, and never given a specific answer to why candidate A or candidate B.  So I guess the question is, to what extent has the President addressed this issue directly to leaders from that community -- or will he, going forward?

Well, I can tell you that the President and his team did extensive outreach to a wide variety of groups, including civil rights groups, prior to making this decision.  And the President has done that prior to making other important personnel decisions.  And look, I went through the record of appointments at the federal bench, and I did that because I think it is a good illustration that the President believes strongly that you can choose the best person for the job and make it a priority to diversify the federal bench, that those two things are not at all mutually exclusive.

In fact, I think the President has proved definitively that it is possible to do both.  And that's why the President is particularly proud of his record.  It was true when he appointed the first Hispanic justice to the Supreme Court.  It certainly was true when he appointed Justice Kagan to the Supreme Court. And the President believes that nominating Chief Judge Garland is putting forward the name of the best person for the Supreme Court this time, too.

Q    So do you think that Judge Garland is going to generate the enthusiasm out there in the grassroots and in the Democratic base that's going to be a decisive thing in putting him over the top and changing this -- knocking down this roadblock you're meeting with the Republicans?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ron, I can tell you definitively that the President did not choose Chief Judge Garland because of the impact it would have on politics.

I recognize that there are Senate Republicans who are making a very specific decision to oppose Chief Judge Garland because of politics.  Senator Ron Johnson committed that classic Washington gaffe of saying the thing accidentally that everybody knows is true, which is that Senate Republicans are blocking the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court because the President is in a different political party than they are.  He acknowledged that if it were President Romney making this decision, that they would be looking at it a whole lot differently.

Now, the irony is that was even before Senator Johnson knew who President Obama was going to put forward.  And that indicates the degree to which partisan politics has polluted this process.

Q    I don't think anybody would dispute that.  But the question then still is, how do you change that?  How do you -- in that environment that I think we would all agree exists, what are you going to do?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that we have seen, just in the few hours since Chief Judge Garland has been nominated, that no one has really raised any legitimate objections to his legal credentials; that on the merits, it is pretty clear what the Senate should do.  And we're going to continue to pursue this nomination on the merits.  We're genuinely interested in continued consultation with Democrats and Republicans.  And ultimately, members of the Senate will have to decide if they're going to put politics ahead of their constitutional duties. 

And I do have my own estimation about how that will play politically.  But that, frankly, is not part of the calculation.  That was certainly not the motivation for this decision.

The President took quite seriously his responsibility to put forward the very best person.  And look, as a couple people have pointed out now, there are a few people who I think vote pretty reliably Democrat that don't wholeheartedly agree with the President’s decision.  I think that, as much as anything, is a testament to the President’s commitment to protecting this process from further political pollution.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Are we in the midst of a constitutional crisis?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it’s too early to say that.  Right now there is still ample time for the United States Senate to fulfill their responsibilities.  And as the President observed, the Senate is prepared to go on a two-week recess.  I guess it’s the Senate’s spring break, if you will.  And hopefully they’ll spend part of that time considering how much of a priority their constitutional responsibilities are. 

And if enough Republicans conclude that their constitutional priorities or responsibilities should take precedent over any sort of political calculation, then this process should be able to move forward accordingly.

And again, it is Republicans who have described -- at least one Republican, a leading Republican who has described Chief Judge Garland as a consensus nominee.

So this is not some -- I know so often in Washington, and I know this this happens a lot in the halls of Congress, that a lot of these kinds of situations get reduced to, well, gee, is the President going to win?  Or is the President’s side going to win?  Is the President going to get his way?

The President is fulfilling his constitutional responsibility.  And he’s put forward somebody of unquestioned legal experience and credentials, somebody who has earned the strong support of Republicans in the past; somebody who has a 19-year track record of fulfilling his obligation to interpret the law, not advance a political agenda.  He is somebody who has served his country with distinction already in pursuit of justice.  And that's the President’s responsibility.

There is no reason that politics has to factor into this.  And the truth is, Republicans should be proud to confirm somebody like Chief Judge Garland to the Supreme Court.  The truth is this has the potential to not just be an important part of the President’s legacy, this is an important part of the Senate’s legacy, too.  And they do have an opportunity to confirm to the Supreme Court -- to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court somebody that everyone acknowledges would serve on the Supreme Court with distinction.  Or their legacy can be an unprecedented effort motivated purely by partisan politics to block the confirmation of a nominee that they themselves acknowledge is a consensus choice.

Q    What about what Vice President Biden said in ’92 when he said the Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over?  The so-called “Biden Rule.”  What about when the President in 2006 said, I’ll be supporting --

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s do one at a time.

Q    Okay, sure.

MR. EARNEST:  Senator Biden at the time, the very next comment that he made after was that he would give careful consideration to a consensus nominee that was put forward by the President.

Q    So does that disqualify what he said before that?

MR. EARNEST:  No, it suggests that if we want to follow the “Biden rule,” then Senate Republicans should do exactly as Senator Biden did.  And what he did was he presided over Judiciary Committee hearings that resulted in the successful confirmation of Justice Kennedy to the Supreme Court.  I raise that because that's the last time that a confirmation vote for the Supreme Court was held in a presidential election year. 

Q    So then should I just disregard the first part of this statement?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no.  Again, I think you should look carefully at what Senator Biden did.  And you should look carefully at what he said, which is that he would support a consensus nominee.  We believe that Republicans should do the same thing.

Q    What about the President, when he said in 2006 that he would support a filibuster of Sam Alito because he felt that he, in fact, was somebody who’s contrary to the core of American values?  There are those who feel like Chief Judge Garland is an opponent of the Second Amendment, and they feel very strongly that that would be contrary to their values.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, first of all, they're saying that even though Judge Garland hasn’t had a confirmation hearing yet.  So they haven’t even -- they're not even going to give him an opportunity to speak for himself, to describe his record.

And the truth is, I have not heard that many Republicans raise substantive objections about his nomination.  And Senator Obama at the time did indicate that he had substantive objections to Justice Alito’s nomination.

I don't think anybody made the case -- even Republicans made the case that Justice Alito was a consensus pick.  And maybe there are people out there Googling some quotes right now to try to prove me wrong, in which case I’m happy for the record to be corrected.

But I don't recall anybody making that case.  But in this case, you have Republicans making the case that Chief Judge Garland is a consensus nominee.

Q    Let me ask you this then:  Is the White House spoiling for a fight?  Are you looking for a fight here?  Is this a fight that you're eager to wage with Republicans not just in the Senate, but broadly speaking?

MR. EARNEST:  I think, Kevin, what we most want the Senate to do is to not fight, but to actually fulfill their constitutional responsibility.

Now, that does not mean -- and I’m not in any way suggesting that the Senate should somehow go easy on Chief Judge Garland.  There should be a legitimate and rigorous process for considering his nomination.  That's why we welcome the opportunity for Chief Judge Garland to begin courtesy visits and private conversations with members of the Senate.  That's why we welcome the opportunity for the Senate Judiciary Committee to convene hours of hearings to ask him about his long legal record.  That is entirely how the process should work.  It certainly is how the process worked for Justice Sotomayor.  It certainly is how the process worked for Justice Kagan.  And we believe that's exactly how the process should work for Chief Judge Garland.

I’m not suggesting that anybody -- that the process should be easy.  But I am suggesting that there is no reason it has to be a political fight.

Q    Last thing.  How would you describe the eventuality if we go through this entire year, past January 2017, and he doesn't get an up or down vote?  What word or words would you use to describe what has then happened to Chief Judge Garland?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think I would leave it to Senator Graham to offer up his description of that.  And he said at the last Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that that would be unprecedented, that Republicans would be establishing a brand-new precedent if they were to resist hearings for almost an entire year on Chief Judge Garland’s nomination.  And in that respect, Senator Graham has it exactly right.

Q    Tit for tat then.  You would say then that the GOP should expect that they’ll get the same thing if a President Trump, for example, had a nominee?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you’d have to check with the Senate on that.  And hopefully -- I guess my case would be simply this:  It shouldn’t come to that.  It really shouldn’t.  And if Republicans in the Senate want to strengthen their case that the next Republican President should be able to fulfill his or her constitutional responsibility to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, then the strongest signal that they can send is just to do what the President said today, which is treat Chief Judge Garland fairly.  That's all we're looking for here, is just a little bit of fairness.

And it's ironic because that's what we expect our judges to do.  We want our judges to be fair.  And during his 19-year history and career on the bench, that's exactly what Chief Judge Garland has done, is that he is somebody who has established a well-earned reputation for being fair.  Republicans would even agree with that.  And we're just asking for the same kind of fair treatment of Judge Garland by Senate Republicans.


Q    Thanks, Josh.   Both Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have said that wanting to overturn the 2010 Citizens United case is a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees under their presidency.  Does the President agree with them and have a litmus test on that case?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware that the President had any litmus tests for Chief Judge Garland or for his previous nominees to the Supreme Court. 

Q    Did Citizens United or campaign finance in general come up during discussions or vetting?  I know the President has broadly spoken about wanting to overturn that case, and it's been a progressive goal for a long time.  Is that something that factored into the decision?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I'm not going to get into the details of the President’s private conversations with Chief Judge Garland.  But as I mentioned to Jon, the President did not have a punch list of hot-button items that he wanted to quiz potential nominees on.  Rather, the President had a broader discussion with them about their approach to the law and their commitment to interpreting the law, not using it to advance a political agenda.

And I would just make the case one more time that this is exactly why you have confirmation hearings, is so that Democrats and Republicans on the committee can ask the nominee tough questions.  And I have no doubt that if the Judiciary Committee were to hold hearings, that you’d probably find Democrats asking Chief Judge Garland about the issue of campaign finance reform.  So I think that would make for a pretty interesting discussion.  I have to admit I'd watch it carefully.  And that's the way the process should work.


Q    Josh, since you can't tell us when the President made his decision, can you tell us why he made it public today?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, today actually falls within this timeline that we previously discussed in here.  When vacancies occurred earlier in the President’s -- Supreme Court vacancies occurred earlier in the President’s term in office, that typically the President put forward a nominee to fill those vacancies in four to five weeks.  And we're, I believe, in the fifth week since Justice Scalia’s untimely death. 

So that's part of the time frame that we used to make this decision.  There also was a sense -- and many of you asked me about this -- that there would be some advantages to making this announcement prior to the President’s departure on his trip to Latin America.  So there was an effort to try to announce this before the President’s departure, and that's what we've done.

Q    It wouldn't have anything to do with the news cycle and the events of last night in terms of primaries and political attention?  Can you say whether that was in any way part of the calculus?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is a date that had been on our calendar for a while now.  I don't think much serious consideration was given to making this announcement on the day that there were five or six presidential primaries held.  But certainly today was an appropriate day, well within the time frame that we had established, and well before the President’s trip to Latin America.  This announcement will also give Chief Judge Garland the opportunity to visit with some members of the United States Senate before they leave on their two-week spring break recess.  So that's the other benefit of making this announcement on a Wednesday, is that it means that the Senate is still in town on Thursday and the senators will still be around to meet with him.

Q    You said that -- well, you're obviously counting meetings with Republicans.  Do you know if Ted Cruz has agreed to meet with Garland?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven't seen any public statements from Senator Cruz.  He seems like he’s pretty busy on the campaign trail.  Maybe we’d have to go to Arizona or something to --

Q    Being on the Judiciary Committee --

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, well, look, we’d welcome the opportunity for Senator Cruz to sit down with him.  But I also understand that Senator Cruz has got some other business that he’s focused on right now, too.  And I'm not suggesting that that’s somehow inappropriate, but hopefully there will be an opportunity at a time that is convenient for Senator Cruz, for him to sit down with Judge Garland.  Because I think what they would find is that even though Senator Cruz’s political views are quite different than the political views of the President of the United States, any fair-minded person -- and I think that we've seen even some unfair-minded people acknowledge that Chief Judge Garland’s legal credentials are beyond reproach.

Q    And can I ask you, how do you gauge how much the political heat has impacted the President’s thinking?  I mean, the White House has made the point of describing Merrick Garland as a moderate.  He's not progressive, he’s not playing to the base necessarily, or pleasing them.  Perhaps offering someone who could be more palatable.  I mean, obviously it was part of the calculus.  How much of it?

MR. EARNEST:  I can tell you that the President chose the best person for the job.  And let me try to illustrate that in a different way.  In 2009 and 2010, there was a Supreme Court vacancy in each of those years.  Those were two years in which Democrats had a strong majority in the United States Senate, and yet the President put forward nominees to the Supreme Court that got, as you would expect, strong support from Senate Democrats, but both of them also got at least some support from Senate Republicans.  And I think that is an indication of the President’s approach here, that he’s not interested in playing politics.  He’s not interested in playing to the base.  He’s interested in choosing the right person for the job.  And that was true even when there was -- when Democrats had a substantial majority in the United States Senate in 2009 and 2010, and it's true now that Republicans are in the majority here in 2016.

I'll just say more generally, I do find it quite disappointing that Republicans are suggesting that somehow politics is an appropriate excuse to doing their job.  And I would actually make the case that there is a golden opportunity here to demonstrate that Senator McConnell can get the Congress moving again, that it would be easy for this to get bogged down in partisan politics, but particularly now that the President hasn’t just put forward the best person for the job, but he’s put forward somebody that at least some Republicans agree are worthy of Republican support in the United States Senate.

So there is an opportunity, even in the midst of this intense partisan back-and-forth on the campaign trail, to demonstrate for the American people that Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. can get together and do the right thing for the country.  And it doesn’t even require Republicans to make a significant concession.  Because again, Senator Hatch is a conservative.  Nobody would question that.  Senator Hatch is somebody who’s got a lot of experience evaluating federal judges.  Nobody would question that.  Senator Hatch has described Chief Judge Garland as a consensus nominee.

Q    And he said he won’t support a hearing for him.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I’m saying is, this is a golden opportunity that Republicans have to demonstrate that they can leave the country, that they can be trusted to be in charge of significant institutions of the federal government.  And again, it doesn’t require them to make concessions.  It doesn’t even really require them to compromise that much.  Again, the President has put forward the person that he believes is the best person for the job, but that person also happens to have earned praise from plenty of Republicans. 

So what I do think is true is the President has not just chosen the best person for the job; he’s also chosen somebody that it should be easy for Republicans to support.  And it doesn’t require them to fold on their principles.  It doesn’t require them to cave to the Democratic President.  It just requires them to demonstrate a commitment to governing the country and protecting the institution of the United States Supreme Court.

Q    And you’re hoping that they’ll have a change of heart when they go to their home districts for Easter break and back away from their public positions?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what is true, Margaret -- and you guys would be in a better position to assess this than I would be -- is that while there has been a stern posture that Republicans have taken publicly, they haven't looked particularly comfortable in doing it.  And we’re going to continue to make a principled case, based on the selection of a consensus nominee, that Republicans in the Senate should put their constitutional duties ahead of any more narrow political considerations they may make.



Q    You have said so much about Garland’s qualifications that he’s the best person for the job.  But given that he has been considered before, those qualifications during those periods of time clearly weren’t enough then.  So wouldn’t that be an indication that now the difference is the politics; that now he’s perfect to be the consensus candidate that maybe others weren’t then?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I will just say that each time the President has had to make this decision he’s considered a diverse array of candidates.  And each time he’s been focused on choosing the individual that he believes could best fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  And I’m pleased to remind you that each time the President has done that, even when Democrats were in the majority, he put forward nominees that earned Republican support.  The President is proud of that king of record.  He has a track record of putting forward individuals whose legal credentials are such that even Republicans are comfortable supporting them.

And it’s not as if it was not a very political environment in 2009 or 2010.  It was a pretty intense period in American politics too.  And yet, even in the midst of that intensity, the President did put forward nominees -- despite having a strong Democratic majority in the Senate, he put forward nominees that earned the support of some Republican senators. 

Q    So couldn’t you ask then, if he is such a stellar, perfect guy for the job now, why was he not twice before?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, simply I would say that in 2009, the President nominated Justice Sonia Sotomayor because he believed that she was the best person for the job.  In 2010, he concluded that Justice Kagan was the best person for the job.  And given the candidates before him in 2016, the President chose Chief Judge Garland because he believes that he’s the best person for the job.  And the good news is, there are at least some Republicans who understand why the President arrived at that decision and don’t entirely disagree.

Q    So can you say when Garland himself was notified that he was the nominee?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know that answer to the question.  I don’t know when he had a conversation with the President.

Q    And today, the White House mentioned a handful of candidates interviewed, but we’ve also heard the number five.  Can you say if that is accurate?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a specific number to share from here in terms of who the President considered.  I can just say in general that the President considered a pretty diverse array of potential candidates. 


Q    And you’ve mentioned before in here that there is some optimism on your part -- you’re seeing here and there some signs to be optimistic that the Senate could actually give this nominee a shot.  Today, your staffers mentioned that now that a few or a handful of senators have said they would be willing under some circumstances to at least meet with him -- I mean, let’s be realistic, is that a sign that they could consider him and take this further than just a meeting?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly hope that’s a positive sign.  I do anticipate that after those private meetings occur, that those senators will walk away impressed.  I think they’ll see the same person that President Obama has seen in his conversations with Chief Judge Garland.  They’ll seem somebody who’s committed to the rule of law, somebody who values public service, somebody who understands that as a judge you’re not supposed to be using our authority to advance a political agenda, but rather you’re responsible for interpreting the law with justice in mind.  Those are the kinds of credentials that Chief Judge Garland brings to the job.  I also think that he brings, as he described in the Rose Garden, a sense of humility.

Q    So do you think there’s a decent chance that this will go to a hearing?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, I’ve long avoided laying odds on Senate action.  Maybe the sports books are open for business in Vegas on this question today.  There’s probably some money going to both sides.  But I wouldn’t hazard a guess at this point.  I think there’s no question that if considered solely on the merits, there would be little, if any, drama surrounding this confirmation process.  But unfortunately, that’s not the situation that we’ve encountered.

Q    And you’ve mentioned the importance -- the possibility that public pressure could have an effect on this.  But you’re also doing a lot of outreach.  So at this point, if there is a chance that you believe there is, that this could move forward, what’s more important -- the public’s opinion of this or the personal outreach that is still going to go on?  What do you think is most likely to sway this process?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the truth is, I think that it probably depends on the senator.  I think there are some senators who, if they’re willing to keep an open mind and have a serious legitimate conversation with Chief Judge Garland, that they’ll come away from that conversation with ample reasons to support his nomination.  And so I think for some people having that conversation will be critical to them ultimately deciding.

For some others, there may be some resistance.  And the only thing that would change their mind would be a forceful expression of public opinion.  So we’ll have to see if that materializes -- and if it does, what kind of impact it has on individual senators.

But I do think that this is a situation where Republicans have an opportunity to demonstrate that their constitutional duties come first.  And demonstrating that commitment to their responsibilities is certainly a good way for them to live up to their rhetoric about the sanctity of the United States Constitution.  It certainly is a good way for them to demonstrate to their voters that they can handle the responsibility of governing the greatest country in the world.

Q    Do you think that public pressure will materialize?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know.  I think according to some polls that I’ve seen, there are some indications that public opinion is not on the side of Republicans putting politics ahead of their constitutional responsibilities.  Whether that has an impact on anybody’s decision, and whether that has an impact on anybody’s race is probably something that you all will have to take a close look at and figure out. 

But we certainly believe that the public is on our side because it’s a pretty open-and-shut case.  This is not a complicated, detailed, nuanced argument that I’m making up here.  I think this is an argument that appeals to people’s notion of fairness and common sense.  And we're going to continue to root our arguments in those notions that the vast majority of Americans -- whether they're a Democrat or a Republican -- I think agrees with.


Q    I just want to turn Michelle’s question on its head and just sort of -- you can acknowledge that there’s a good chance that Republicans’ implacable opposition to any consideration of this nomination continues until the election, right? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that's certainly possible.  And it is not the first time that we have encountered intense Republican opposition even in the face of a common-sense notion.  That certainly would not be unprecedented.  What would be unprecedented is subjecting a nominee, particularly a consensus nominee, as Senator Hatch described, to this kind of obstruction.  And again, that's not just my assessment.  That's actually the assessment of Senator Lindsey Graham.

Q    Whether it’s precedented or unprecedented, it certainly seems likely that that will be the course of action over the next year, Josh, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it is certainly possible that Republicans will choose that approach.  Again, they have in the past -- we have seen Republicans demonstrate implacable opposition and obstruction to other pretty common-sense ideas.  We have also seen a number of situations where Republicans have demonstrated an implacable opposition to a common-sense idea, and then to fold without a whole lot of previous warning. 

So that's why I would say that it certainly is possible that Republicans would choose and follow through on this unprecedented approach.  But it’s also possible that Republicans will change course.  They have in the past.

Q    You have a long game in front of you.  Can you at all give us some details about how you intend to create the forceful expression of public opinion as you were talking about before that you hope would lead to Judge Garland’s consideration by the Senate?  You’ve got Stephanie Cutter on the outside who is trying to coordinate the outside groups.  Will that coordination then come back into the White House?  What are you guys going to do to help put as much political pressure on Republicans to reverse their stance?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Gardiner, from the White House perspective, this isn’t about politics.  And I think the kind of pressure that we can apply to the Senate is making a forceful, principled argument about Chief Judge Garland’s credentials, and his experience, and the fact that he’s got more federal judicial experience than any other nominee in Supreme Court history.  We’ll make a principled case that even Republicans have observed that he is a consensus nominee.  We’ll make the principled case that seven Republicans, including some Republicans that don't often side with this White House, have previously supported Chief Judge Garland’s appointment to the federal bench.

We’ll continue to make the principled observation that even in those 19 intervening years where he has handled some of the most difficult and complex issues that any judge in the federal government considers, that he has not left anybody with the impression that he has abandoned a commitment to fair interpretation of the law.  And that’s the argument that we’ll make.

I think that there will be plenty of people on the outside who will be seeking to create a political advantage on both sides of this argument.  That’s entirely legitimate.  The question for the United States Senate is, are they going to allow the debate to be dominated by politics, or are they going to follow their constitutional duties?

           Q    A couple of questions outside of the SCOTUS stuff.  Is there a White House reaction to the Syrian Kurdish party’s push to declare a semi-autonomous region across northern Syria?  This is a story that we have going today.

MR. EARNEST:  I have to admit, Gardiner, I haven’t seen that story.  But why don’t we look --

Q    And, by the way, I just want to -- there’s nothing wrong with Yalies.  I want to be clear about that.  (Laughter.)  And do you have a reaction to former Brazilian President Lula joining the cabinet in Brazil, potentially protecting him from corruption allegations?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t seen that report, either, I have to admit.  (Laughter.)  I’ve been focused on some other topics of the day.  But we can get back to you on both of those things.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll make sure that we circulate that broadly.

Chris, in the back.

Q    Josh, the number of cases within the LGBT community (inaudible) the Supreme Court whether LGBT people are covered under general protection under current civil rights law and the constitutionality of HIV (inaudible) preservation of the ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.  What would be your message to LGBT people who are looking to the Supreme Court for equal justice under the law for them as they examine the Garland nomination?

MR. EARNEST:  Chris, I think what I would simply observe is that the Supreme Court has important work to do, and they are handling some issues that can and will have a profound impact on the day-to-day lives of the American people.  That’s why I would associate myself with the comments of President Reagan, who said, “Every day that passes with the Supreme Court below full strength impairs the people’s business in that crucially important body.”  He’s right about that.  And given the significance of the cases that are before the Supreme Court and will be before the Supreme Court in the next term.  That’s why we believe that the Senate should act without delay on the nomination of someone to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court that they have described as a consensus nominee.

Q    And when you said you declined to give details of the conversations the President has had with Judge Garland on certain issues, I just wanted to pose the ones that I mentioned with regards to equal justice in the law for LGBT people.  Did that come up at all in the conversations the President had with the judge?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, I’m not going to get into their private conversations.  Again, the President did not use his private conversations -- interviews, if you want to describe them that way -- with potential nominees as an opportunity to interrogate them over specific issues.  The President is much more interested in understanding their approach to the law and their approach to the work that we ask judges to do.  And certainly when it comes to Chief Judge Garland, he is somebody that has an established track record and somebody who has spent decades thinking about the best way for judges to fulfill their responsibility to interpret the law and not advance a political agenda.  So that was the nature of the conversation that they had.

Yes, ma’am.  I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thanks.  In other important news, the President picked his brackets today for the tournament.  (Laughter.)  He picked Kansas.  Did you have any influence there?  Do you ever have influence there?  He’s picked them more than anyone else.

MR. EARNEST:  I did not have any influence on that decision.  This is another judgment that the President arrived at after extensive consultation.  (Laughter.)  And, ultimately, this decision was up to him and he chose the very best team in the bracket to win.

Q    Consensus choice?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, given that they are the number-one overall seed, I think you might describe them as the consensus pick.  I’m not sure Senator Hatch would --

Q    They didn’t go to Yale.

MR. EARNEST:  They didn’t go to Yale, and I don’t know if Senator Hatch would agree that they are the consensus pick, but certainly the President is looking forward to the tournament starting tomorrow.

Thanks, everybody.

3:03 P.M. EDT