February 29, 2016 / 4:14 PM / 3 years ago

Obama adviser Deese to lead White House's Supreme Court process

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has turned to senior adviser Brian Deese, an economic expert who previously led the administration’s climate change efforts, to head a team formed to pick a Supreme Court nominee and win confirmation, the White House said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) walks with White House senior advisor Brian Deese (L) and U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern (C) to attend a meeting with French Foreign Minister during the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change at Le Bourget on the outskirts of Paris, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

White House counsel Neil Eggleston will be a part of that team and will steer the legal process, including the vetting of potential candidates, administration officials said on Monday.

Leading Republicans have vowed to block any nominee Obama chooses, leaving the White House with the challenge of finding someone it believes could change Republican minds or galvanize enough public support to pressure them to back down.

Obama has been in the early stages of choosing a candidate to replace conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia since his death two weeks ago.

The process is likely to take at least a month, and the Deese-led team was created to ensure the entire White House staff was not consumed with the potentially legacy-defining project.

The group will report regularly to chief of staff Denis McDonough, senior advisers and Obama.

Deese has a history of taking on projects important to the president within the White House. He was involved in leading the administration’s bailout of the U.S. auto industry, budget deals with Congress and, most recently, international climate change talks that culminated in a Paris deal to fight global warming.

“The president has relied on Brian in a variety of critical situations to do important work and to take on important projects,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“Given Brian’s performance in his other priorities, I don’t think it’s particularly surprising he would be tapped for this responsibility too.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said repeatedly that the Senate will not confirm an Obama nominee in this election year. McConnell and other congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with the president on Tuesday.

The White House keeps an ongoing list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court for instances in which a vacancy opens up, according to a former administration official involved in the process previously. That list is now being reviewed and is open to new entrants.

Candidates will be vetted and interviewed before Obama makes his final decision.

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Trott, Bernard Orr

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