The White House is considering Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada as a possible nominee to the Supreme Court, two people familiar with the process said Wednesday.
The nomination of a Republican would be seen as an attempt by President Barack Obama to break the Senate GOP blockade of any of his choices. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said his 54-member GOP caucus is opposed to holding confirmation hearings or vote on Obama’s pick, insisting that the choice rests with the next president.
The officials declined to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Mari St. Martin, Sandoval’s communications director, said Wednesday that the governor hasn’t been contacted by the White House.
“Neither Gov. Sandoval nor his staff has been contacted by or talked to the Obama administration regarding any potential vetting for the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court,” she said.
Sandoval met with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Monday in Washington while he was in town for a meeting of the National Governors Association.
At the governors’ meeting over the weekend, Sandoval said he was honored his name was mentioned as a potential successor for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, but had heard nothing to think the Democratic president is considering him.
Before Sandoval, 52, became the state’s first Hispanic governor, he was the state’s first Hispanic federal judge. He supports abortion rights, a position that might assuage some Democrats nervous about the nomination of a Republican. But liberal groups swiftly came out against the idea.
“Nominating Sandoval to the Supreme Court would not only prevent grassroots organizations like Democracy for America from supporting the president in this nomination fight, it could lead us to actively encouraging Senate Democrats to oppose his appointment,” said Democracy for America.
Limited to two terms, Sandoval’s final term as governor expires in early 2019. He announced last year that he would not seek the seat of retiring Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate minority leader, in this November’s election, a race in which Sandoval would have been a strong favorite.
“My heart is here. My heart is in my job,” Sandoval said at the time.
Sandoval’s consideration immediately reverberated in the Nevada Senate race, where candidates are vying to replace Reid, who is retiring. Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto urged her Republican competitors to call for hearings if Sandoval is the pick.
“Voting on nominees is part of the job of being a senator, and if politicians in Washington have a problem with that they should find a new line of work,” she said.
In Washington, few GOP senators have shown any willingness to buck party leaders and consider an Obama nominee.
Before McConnell announced his party’s position, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, said Nevadans should have a voice in approving a selection – which his aides said meant the next president, not Obama, should fill the vacancy. Heller’s written statement concluded, “But should he decide to nominate someone to the Supreme Court, who knows, maybe it’ll be a Nevadan.”
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said Wednesday that the leader’s office is working with the White House to schedule a meeting with the president, but noted that his position wasn’t likely to change much.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president is also hoping to meet with Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa.
Sandoval’s consideration was first reported by The Washington Post.