Senate Republicans divided over Supreme Court nominee hearings

Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, smiles as he meets with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – When it comes to Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, Republican Sen. Susan Collins confidently states, “The next step, in my view, should be public hearings before the Judiciary Committee.”

Merrick Garland and Sen. Susan Collins
Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 5, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The moderate Maine senator is just one in a rainbow of divided voices springing forth from her party.

When Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, returned to Capitol Hill this week, he was ready to rumble with anyone and everyone who suggested SCOTUS confirmations have become too politicized. As the man in charge of the Senate confirmation process, the critiques clearly touched a nerve.

Grassley, from the Senate floor, unloaded on Chief Justice John Roberts for bemoaning, just prior to Antonin Scalia’s death, the heightened partisanship high court nominees encounter as they traverse the Senate confirmation process.

In response, Grassley retorted that Chief Justice Roberts “would be well-served to address the reality, not the perception, that too often, there is little difference between the actions of the court and the actions of the political branches,” and commanded, “Physician, heal thyself.”

Garland will get a sitdown with Grassley next Tuesday, but the chairman says he plans to use the face-to-face meeting to explain why the nominee will never sit before his committee to undergo confirmation proceedings.

GOP division

Merrick Garland and Sen. Mark Kirk
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., right, meets with Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, becoming the only Republican senator to meet the embattled nominee, Tuesday, March 29, 2016, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

So far, at least 16 Republican senators have committed to meeting with Garland, including Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) who are up for reelection in purple states.

As of this article, only two GOP senators publicly support putting Garland through the full screening process.

Collins is joined in the pro-vote camp by Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. “We need rational, adult, open-minded consideration of the constitutional process, which Judge Garland is part of,” argued Kirk after meeting with the judge.

The thread running through Kirk and other amenable senators’ circumstances is that he, too, faces a tough reelection bid this cycle. In an oft-blue state like Illinois, Kirk can’t afford to look like an obstructionist – and party leaders forgive him the neck-saving maneuver.

Other GOP senators who stepped out of line didn’t find easy pardons.

Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) publicly called for full confirmation hearings but eventually reversed their support, due to rumored arm-twisting by party bosses.

The theory goes that each crack makes it harder on loyal Republican holdouts.

Democrats plot

A group of just 14 Republicans could theoretically join with Democrats to form a 60-vote supermajority and force a floor vote on Garland using a discharge resolution, an obscure procedural tool – an option appears unlikely at this time.

Republican resistance thus far remains strong overall. But fissures are no doubt appearing as senators face unhappy constituents back home who widely support giving Garland a vote.

With five months left until the November 2016 election, it’s unclear if conservatives can hold the line permanently. If the pro-confirmation hearing needle moves further in polls, so, too, could GOP senators.

Meanwhile, Garland will continue showing up on Senate doorsteps with a handshake and hopes of one day hearing members vote “yea” or “nay” on his nomination.

Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales

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