RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
President Obama will announce his nomination to the Supreme Court later this morning. He will be making that announcement in the White House Rose Garden at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. No one yet knows who that nominee will be of course, but whoever it is will be bound to face a tough fight. Republicans have vowed not to even consider President Obama's nominee. With us now is NPR political reporter Scott Detrow. Good morning.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Our legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, has told us this morning that the White House has narrowed the list down to three contenders for the slot. Why don't you give us a brief overview?
DETROW: That's right. They're Judge Merrick Garland. He is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That's often considered the second-most important court in the country. Judge Sri Srinivasan sits on that court as well. And if he's nominated, he would be the first South Asian and the first Hindu appointed to the court. And the third candidate, according to Nina Totenberg, is Judge Paul Watford. He serves on the 9th Court of Appeals, and that's based in California.
MONTAGNE: And Republicans have come out and said that under no circumstances will they let this nomination happen.
DETROW: That's right. Senator John Cornyn, high ranking Republican of Texas, said they won't even meet with the nominee.
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JOHN CORNYN: I don't see the point of going through the motions. If we know what the outcome is going to be and we are united on that, I don't see the point of going through the motions and creating a misleading impression that something else is going on here.
DETROW: And this is a stance that Senate Republicans were saying within hours of Justice Scalia's death. And basically, the entire caucus is on board with this strategy. You know, it's a high-stakes pick here. Every Supreme Court nomination is high-stakes - but Justice Scalia, such a key member of the conservative bloc. And having President Obama, a Democrat, replace him would really shift the balance of the court.
MONTAGNE: Yes, of course, what they've been saying all along is they want the next president - presumably they would hope a Republican president - to be able to name this Supreme Court nominee. But in a way, why not just let the nomination proceed and - because they do have the numbers, they have the vote - vote that nominee down?
DETROW: Well, this is really a political decision, and there are two reasons for that. One is that saying no outright, before the nomination was even made, makes the argument from Senate Republicans about whether or not President Obama should nominate at all this late in his term rather than the merits of the candidate. And these hearings are really newsy events. You can't say that about all congressional hearings. But when a Supreme Court nominee is sitting in front of the Senate, everybody covers it. It makes a lot of attention. And Republicans are worried that any hearings or meetings would make this an ongoing story and maybe generate momentum for the pick.
MONTAGNE: Well, now that a nomination is upon us, or will be later this morning - we'll be covering it - where will the Democrats be going in all of this?
DETROW: This is going to be a key issue for Democrats for the rest of the year, especially in Senate races. Democrats already felt like they had a really good chance of being competitive and maybe taking the Senate back this year. That was before Donald Trump looked more and more like the possible Republican nominee, and Democrats feel like that gives them a better chance as well. But this is something that they're going to apply pressure to - to Senate Republicans saying, why won't you have a vote for this candidate? This candidate is qualified. Why won't you even consider them? And you got a sense of that in the announcement that President Obama made this morning, basically saying, I'm doing my job by making the appointment. Now it's time for the Senate to do their job as well. So you can expect a lot of commercials on this.
MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, are the Democrats also hopeful that they will have a stronger role in the Senate in this next election and that could actually be an argument to the Republicans that they better watch out?
DETROW: I mean, that's a good - that's a good point. And I think that's an argument that you've certainly seen in coverage and analysis of this. But I don't know if it's a winning argument to say to Senate, hey, Republicans, you might lose your majority. So why don't you go with this pick as opposed to somebody who could be...
MONTAGNE: You might like less. Yeah, who could be - but not maybe - not as you pointed out, or - argument that will work with Republicans.
DETROW: That's hard for Republicans to run on and tell their base.
MONTAGNE: OK, great, thank you. That's NPR's political reporter Scott Detrow here in Washington. President Obama will announce his nominee for the Supreme Court later this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.