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Garland hits Hill as Democrats hit GOP over plan to block SCOTUS nomination

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President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court Wednesday morning, multiple congressional sources tell CNN, setting up a dramatic political fight with Senate Republicans who have vowed to block any replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Democrats began on Thursday what they describe as the first phase of an intense pressure campaign to force Republicans to cave and confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court — or pay a high price for not doing so.

Judge Merrick Garland made the rounds in the Senate Thursday afternoon, meeting — and posing for the cameras with — Minority Leader Harry Reid and the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Obama held a conference call with liberal activists meant to get the ball rolling on a national campaign aimed at embarrassing Republicans for sitting on their hands.

“Republican leaders have said they believe the American people should have a say,” Obama said on the call. “Well you know the American people did have a say back in 2012 when they elected me president and they had a say when they elected the current senators as senators.”

Garland has no easy task. An arduous process under the best of circumstances — meeting lawmakers, preparing for a murder board-type Judiciary panel hearing, then waiting for a final vote — he is faced with senators who won’t even sit down with the chief judge of the what is considered the second-most prestigious court of the land, the court of appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

After meeting Thursday afternoon, Reid said Garland was well-suited for the intense scrutiny of the period ahead.

“I just told him to be himself. To be calm and collected. I think that’s his nature anyway,” Reid said.

“This is the culmination of anyone’s legal life, to be selected to go on the Supreme Court of the United States,” Reid said. “I think he will be confirmed but if I were in his shoes, I’d be willing to take all the brickbats and pieces of fruit thrown at him in non-figurative ways.”

Garland was asked what it felt like to be this “maelstrom?” The judge didn’t answer.

GOP plans

Senate Republicans spent the first full day after the nomination mostly staying in line with the idea there will be no hearing or vote on Garland.

Justice Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, up for re-election in Iowa this fall, said he told Garland via phone that the chamber won’t take up the nomination until after a new president is elected. But Grassley did indicate he would likely meet with Garland after the Easter recess.

“If I can meet with a dictator in Uganda, I can surely meet with a decent person in America,” Grassley said Thursday.

Grassley isn’t alone in saying he will meet with the nominee. Sen. Ron Johnson, up for re-election in Wisconsin, also said he will sit down with Garland — but committed to nothing beyond that.

“I have no problem with meeting with people,” Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’ll have to say, I’m not sure what the point will be.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a top Democratic leader, said the meetings, Schumer said, are the first signs that GOP senators aren’t entirely happy with McConnell’s plan.

“We are seeing cracks on the Republican side,” Schumer said. “About five or six members have agreed already to meet with the nominee. And I think what happened is they saw how stellar the nominee was and they realized how bad it would be not to.”

“I don’t understand what people are worried about if they have hearings. Are they afraid they’ll like him?” asked Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. “I don’t get that. Or somehow they’ll be hypnotized in voting a way they don’t want to vote.”

Lame duck?

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch opened up a flood of questions and possibilities by suggesting the Senate could hold a hearing on Garland during a lame-duck session after the presidential election, but Grassley and other top Republicans shot that down.

“I think it would be a mistake,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.

Schumer, for his part, seized on the idea as another sign GOP senators are already wilting and accused Republican leaders of being hypocritical.

“That just undercuts everything that they’re saying,” Schumer said.

“They’re saying they want to wait until after the election to decide. But, in this case they will make an exception. And if we did it in the lame duck, we wouldn’t be waiting for the election and having the new president, whomever she is, to decide,” he said, adding a sly reference to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.