Here’s the read-out from Senator Grassley's office, on his breakfast this morning with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland:

Both Senator Grassley and Judge Garland arrived early so the meeting began at 7:45 a.m. in the Senate Dining Room. The meeting was cordial and pleasant. As he indicated last week, Grassley explained why the Senate won't be moving forward during this hyper-partisan election year. Grassley thanked Judge Garland for his service. The meeting ended at 8:55 a.m.

In other words, no news, or at least not the news the White House wanted.

Soon after Justice Scalia died, Majority Leader McConnell said the Senate would block anyone Obama would nominate to fill the vacancy. That position didn't change last month when Obama announced Garland as the nominee. The confirmation process has typically included hearings in the judiciary committee and an up-or-down vote, but only two Republican senators support doing that. For almost every Republican senator, blocking the nomination means having no hearing and no vote.

It apparently does not mean refusing to meet with Garland, as Grassley did today over breakfast (eggs and toast for the judge, oatmeal for the senator). The White House is hoping that Republican senators will be sufficiently impressed with the nominee as to change course and "have hearings, and have a vote," as Obama said two days ago on Fox News Sunday. Grassley, who is chairman of the judiciary committee, would play a key role should there be hearings. But from what is known about the breakfast so far, there is no reason to think Grassley has changed his mind. "I enjoyed talking to him, but nothing has changed," he told CNN, adding that he conveyed "very clearly" to the judge his position that "we're not going to have a hearing."

The problem for Obama and other Democrats lies in the government of separated powers that the Constitution established. A president has the power to nominate anyone he or she wants to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. At the same time, the Senate has the power to consent or refuse consent to a nominee. In both cases the Constitution doesn't say how the respective powers should be exercised—no mention of hearings or votes in the case of the consent power--but leaves those determinations (as the law professor Eugene Volokh has explained) to the political branches to which they are assigned and to the political process within those branches. The people elected Obama, of course, but they also elected the Republican Senate we have now. And with those choices the people created the potential for the conflict between them now at hand over filling Scalia's seat, one that Obama, lacking a constitutional means of prevailing, will lose, provided Senate Republicans hold their ground.

And there could be more to the story. McConnell and his colleagues want to defer filling the vacancy until after the November elections and a new president is sworn in. They hope to elevate for consideration by voters this fall the question of the kind of judge—of what judicial philosophy—a president should nominate, for not only the Scalia vacancy but also any other seats that might open during the new president's term. Voters also would have the opportunity to assess how the Republican Senate exercised its consent power in Garland's case.