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Ahead of SCOTUS nod, Obama warned Merrick Garland of political "war zone"

Before naming Merrick Garland as a nominee to fill the Supreme Court's empty seat, President Obama made sure the U.S. Circuit Court judge was aware of the "war zone" he was getting into.

"We had a very candid conversation," Mr. Obama told NPR's Nina Totenberg in an interview released Friday. "I'm sure that he is aware that, these days, massive advertising campaigns are mounted in opposition to candidates -- not just for Supreme Court, but for appellate court judges."

"We discussed that, and I wanted to make sure that not only he felt comfortable with it, but his family felt comfortable with it," the president continued. "You know, for those of us who are more often in, you know, the scrum of politics, we're -- we call folks like Judge Garland 'civilians.' And so suddenly being placed in a war zone like this is something that you want to make sure they're mindful of."

Garland's confirmation on the nation's highest court faces an uncertain future, with Senate Republicans refusing to hold hearings or a vote for the former federal prosecutor. Only a handful of those senators have even agreed to meet with the nominee.

Obama hopes Garland nomination will be seen as moderate choice

Still, despite the GOP roadblocks, some Democrats in the upper chamber are "confident" that Garland will get to the bench, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

The president remains hopeful as well.

"He is at a stage in his career where, given his confidence in his record, given the reputation that he's built in the legal community, that he is prepared, I think, to take on whatever unfair or unjust or wildly exaggerated claims that may be made by those who are just opposed to any nominee that I might make," he noted. "Because he thinks it's important."

In the NPR interview, the president also talked about what was behind his choice of Garland, whom he had considered twice before.

"My goal was to actually confirm a justice who I thought could do an outstanding job," he said. "And Merrick Garland fits that bill."

Garland's reputation as a non-ideological consensus builder was also a part of his appeal to the president.

"It is my belief that now more than ever his voice would serve the court well, would help to burnish the sense that the Supreme Court is above politics and not just an extension of politics," said Obama, adding that Garland has the kind of calm voice that would end up "increasing the American people's confidence in our justice system."

Mr. Obama also defended Vice President Joe Biden, who Republicans have attacked over a 1992 statement the then-Senate Judiciary Committee chairman made suggesting that an election year was an inappropriate time to name a new justice to the Supreme Court.

"If you look at what Joe Biden actually said many years ago, he was saying if, hypothetically, there were to be a Supreme Court opening, then his advice to a president in his last year would be to not make the nomination unless he had consulted widely and arrived at a consensus candidate," the president said. "Well, you know what? That's exactly what I've done. And so there's no contradiction between what I'm doing and what Joe Biden suggested a president in my circumstances should do."

As for Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's contention that the American people should decide at the ballot box who should fill the vacancy, Mr. Obama retorted, "In fact, the American people did decide, back in 2012 when they elected me president of the United States."