"We think we are making progress on this and we think we have a really good chance," said White House Counsel Neil Eggleston during a breakfast event hosted by Politico in Washington. He was joined by senior adviser Brian Deese who said that the prospects before nomination were written off "100%" but now a "growing number" of Republicans are willing to sit down and meet with Garland. "We are up to 16 or 17," Deese said.
Deese said the President intends to "make the case" in Chicago that the "Supreme Court needs to stay above politics."
Obama's planned trip to Illinois comes after Garland met this week with Illinois GOP Sen. Mark Kirk, who is up for re-election and facing pressure to push back against Republican leaders on their plans to not hold a hearing or vote on the nominee.
"We need rational, adult, open-minded consideration of the constitutional process, which Judge Garland is part of," Kirk said Tuesday. "He's been dually nominated by the elected President of the United States to fill a vacancy which we know exists on the court, and we need open-minded, rational, responsible people to keep an open mind to make sure the process works."
Garland is set to meet with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and John Boozman of Arkansas next week.
Dees said that that Garland has been calm, focused and "very disciplined" in preparing for courtesy meetings with senators and had participated in some prep sessions for eventual hearings. Deese dodged a question from Politico's Mike Allen on whether he would "rule out" Garland making non-traditional public appearances, but he allowed that Garland would continue with his administrative duties at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and his charity work tutoring children.
Asked about the fact that Garland at 63 is older than most nominees, Deese said that that the age factor "should take any argument off the table that the President was making this choice for any reason other than his extraordinary credentials and what he could bring to the court."
'Reasonably into Taylor Swift'
On a lighter note, Deese admitted it's not just Garland's serious and substantive side that appeals to him. Deese revealed that their musical tastes are also aligned. Reese said that he had been a little self-conscious about the fact that he has adopted his three year old's preference for Taylor Swift. Until he met Garland. "I have now found out that Judge Garland is also reasonably into Taylor Swift," he said to laughter.
Eggleston said he learned of Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden death from the Justice Department who had received the information from U.S. Marshals and called Scalia a "towering figure." He said his office was prepared with a short list and that the President's message to him was that he wanted to "play this straight" and get the best person for the court.
Eggleston said the potentials on the list included federal and state judges, academics, practitioners and other people in government. He said he's known Garland for 20 years and besides his judicial record he was impressed with how he handled the Oklahoma City bombing investigation as a lawyer for the Department of Justice and the fact that over the years he has kept in touch with victims and their family members.