5 possible outcomes for the Merrick Garland nomination

Story highlights

  • President Barack Obama formally announced Merrick Garland as his pick to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
  • Senate Republicans want to block President Barack Obama from getting another liberal on the bench

Washington (CNN)When a president nominates someone for the Supreme Court, what comes next is usually standard: In-person meetings with senators, followed by an in-depth confirmation hearing, a committee vote and then a fight -- some more intense than others -- involving the full Senate.

This year is anything but standard.
    Senate Republicans want to block President Barack Obama from getting another liberal on the bench, no matter how qualified Judge Merrick Garland is. Democrats are hoping to make them pay an electoral price for doing so. But being Washington, there are plenty of theories for how the nomination will play out between now and the end of the year -- or even all the way to January 20, 2017.
    Here are five possible fates for the Garland nomination:

    Republicans stand their ground

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn't budge after Obama tapped Garland as his nominee -- insisting that the chamber absolutely would not move a Supreme Court choice until a new president takes office.
    RELATED: Who is Merrick Garland?

    He even told Garland as much in a phone call Wednesday, saying there's no need for the two to meet face-to-face.
    The power is in the GOP's hands. If no Republicans break ranks -- even under immense political pressure back home -- there's no path forward for Garland's nomination, at least under Obama and the current Senate leadership. They can simply run out the clock.
    Maybe a few senators will sit down with Garland. For instance, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said he'll meet the judge. "If I can meet with a dictator in Uganda, I can surely meet with a decent person in America," Grassley said Thursday.
    But with no current plans to vet Garland or even proceed to even a hearing, that would be that.
    National Republican groups are jetting in with support for their senators. The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have both cast Garland as a partisan Democrat in recent hours, fighting to prevent the notion that he's a consensus choice from taking hold.
    For McConnell's part, he says this is all Democrats' fault, anyway -- pointing to the 2006 decision to filibuster Samuel Alito. "You reap what you sow," McConnell said at an awkward White House meeting this month, two sources familiar with the session told CNN's Manu Raju.

    The GOP budges -- but not much

    There's another way for Republicans to reject Garland's nomination.
    They could give him a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee -- even a vote. They could even advance him to the full Senate floor.
    And then they could vote him down.
    As endangered GOP senators like Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania come under pressure at home, they could look for some middle ground.
    This option would require McConnell to back off significantly -- though already, at least a few Republican senators are talking about giving Garland a chance.
    Kirk said he will "assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications."
    And the Maine moderate, Sen. Susan Collins, who voted in 1997 to put Garland in his current spot as the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said she'd meet with the judge and called on the Judiciary Committee to move forward with hearings.
    "I believe the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold a hearing," Collins said. "That would be the normal course."

    Democrats win and Garland is confirmed

    It's an all-out effort: Obama's former aides are rallying to his side, mounting intense campaigns to make senators feel the pain at home for their refusal to consider Garland. They're privately targeting July 4 to get the GOP to crack.
    It's possible Democrats could find enough pressure points to succeed.
    They could target institutionalists -- long-time lawmakers who are tired of the gridlock and crave normal order -- as well as those GOP senators who represent blue states and have tough re-election battles on their hands.
    Democrats could also get a boost from the presidential election. If the Republican gulf continues to widen -- with Donald Trump seizing the nomination, but the anti-Trump forces within the conservative movement and the party's moderate wings never getting on board with his candidacy -- it's possible that as the months wear on, senators could come to the conclusion that a Democrat is likely to win the White House.
    If that happens, it could leave Republican senators weighing the devil they know -- Garland, whom many Republicans have praised before -- against the devil they don't, faced with the prospect of a more liberal choice from the increasingly likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

    A lame duck vote

    The Senate could wait until after November's general election, but before a new Senate and new president take office in January, to move Garland's nomination.
    Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, set off a flurry of stories Wednesday when he suggested waiting until the lame duck session for a hearing. That would certainly take the nomination passed the so-called political season, but a lame-duck Congress isn't exactly giving the American people a voice.
    Grassley and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn rejected such a plan.
    "I think it would be a mistake," Cornyn said Thursday.
    But Obama's decision to nominate Garland was rooted in the conclusion that he's among the least-objectionable names a Democratic president could submit to a Republican Senate for confirmation.
    If the election breaks Democrats' way, the GOP could decide Garland is its best option.

    The kitchen sink

    This being Washington, there's a cottage industry of people who love nothing more than come up with far-fetched ways to get things done.
    For instance, one parlor theory is that Obama could withdraw the Garland nomination at some point.
    Bernie Sanders said he backs Obama's pick, but should he win, he would ask the President to pull the nomination so he could pick someone more liberal.
    "I think I'm 100% prepared to support Judge Garland," Sanders said on MSNBC Thursday night. "I think he's clearly very knowledgeable and can serve ably on the Supreme Court. But between you and me I think there are some more progressive judges out there."
    Clinton praised Garland and lauded Obama for submitting a nominee. But she hasn't said whether she, too, would have nominated Garland.
    Obama and Clinton could play a game of Obama's Garland/good cop versus Clinton's more liberal/bad cop. And if Clinton wins in November, Obama could tell Republicans that they missed their chance.
    Republicans, of course, could see their bet pay off -- with a GOP president and Senate by the end of January, and an open spot on the Supreme Court.
    Or things could get weirder, if the Republicans don't act but Democrats win the Senate and take over in early January. They would have 2 or so weeks of overlap with the outgoing Obama administration.
    Perhaps a Republican wins the White House but Democrats somehow get the Senate and are in no mood to do the new Oval Office-holder any favors, making it all but impossible to get anybody confirmed.
    Or perhaps the Supreme Court will learn to like only having eight justices.