President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Reuters

Republicansenators on Thursday raised the possibilitythey wouldconfirm BarackObama's SupremeCourt nominee Merrick Garland before the U.S. president leaves office in January if Democrats retain the White House in the Nov. 8election.

Garland began the customary meetings withsenators that kick off theconfirmation process. He visited the offices of Democrats Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy a day after Obama nominated the appealscourt judge and former prosecutor to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Feb. 13.

Republicans are concerned that if Hillary Clinton, Obama's former secretary of state and the Democratic front-runner, wins the presidentialelection, she could send the Senate a far more liberal nominee after taking office.

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Garland, 63, is widely viewed as a moderate acceptable to many Republicans, who also worrythey could lose control of the Senate to the Democrats in the November vote.

Nominations to the lifetime SupremeCourt post require Senateconfirmation.

Republicans have saidthey want the next president to make the selection, hoping their party wins November'selection. Billionaire businessman Donald Trump is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Utah's Orrin Hatch and Arizona's Jeff Flake, Republican members of the Judiciary Committee that would hold anyconfirmation hearings, said it was possible the Senate could act on Garland's nomination in a "lame-duck" session after theelection and before a new president and Congress take office in January.

"I would choose a less liberal nominee. And this nominee is a less liberal nominee than we would get, I'm quite certain, with Hillary Clinton," Flake told reporters.

Senate Republican leaders have vowed not to holdconfirmation hearings or an up-or-down vote on any SupremeCourt nominee put forward by Obama. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reiterated that stance on Thursday.

Denis McDonough,Obama's chief of staff, said the White House will watch developments over the next several weeks and months but expected Republicans eventually would hold a vote on Garland's nomination.

Any Democratic appointee to thehighcourt, now with four liberals and four conservatives following Scalia's death, could tip it to the left for the first time in decades. That could shape rulings on such issues as abortion, gun rights, religious rights, affirmative action, union powers and political spending.

Flake said while Republican leaders were "fully justified" in delaying action onconfirmation, if the Republicans lose the White House race the Senate "ought to look at this nomination in a lame-duck session in November."

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Hatch in 1997 backed Garland's nomination to his current judgeship.

"To this day, I think well of Merrick Garland, and I think he's a fine person," Hatch told National Public Radio. "I remain convinced that the best way for the Senate to do its job is to conduct theconfirmation process after this toxic presidentialelection season is over."

While McConnell is refusing even to meet with Garland, Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa indicated he was willing. "If I can meet with a dictator in Uganda, I can surely meet with a decent person in America," Grassley said, according to CNN.

Garland met with Nevada's Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, and Vermont's Leahy, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Garland did not address reporters, but Leahy expressed hope that Republican leaders would change course.

Ifthey followed a normal routine,senators could holdconfirmation hearings and a vote by the Memorial Day holiday in late May, Leahy said.

Reid pledged to keep up the pressure on Republicans toconfirm Garland.

"Do it now. Why wait?" Reid said when asked about a lame-duckconfirmation scenario. "To hold up a nomination so that Donald Trump can give a nomination? That should scare everybody."

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