GOP senator meets with Garland, says hearings should be held

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. Republican senators, at the insistence of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remain steadfast in refusing to hold hearings or a confirmation vote on the nomination during the waning months of Obama’s presidency. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican senator said Tuesday she is “more convinced than ever” that there should be hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee after meeting with Judge Merrick Garland.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made clear he is not budging, telling reporters: “I think it’s safe to say there will not be hearings or votes.”

Maine Sen. Susan Collins sat down with Garland on Capitol Hill for more than an hour. She is one of two GOP senators to call for hearings on Garland’s nomination after McConnell said there would be no hearings or votes, leaving the decision to the next president after voters have their say in November.

“He has a humility about him,” Collins said immediately after the meeting. “He has clearly thought very deeply about the issues confronting the courts, there was not any question he could not handle and he has a long record of accomplishment.”

Collins acknowledged that she is unlikely to change anyone’s mind on the issue. McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa have held firm that they will block Garland, a move that conservative activists have cheered. Those two GOP leaders have the backing of 50 other GOP senators this election year.

Not long after Collins’ made her comments, McConnell addressed reporters after meeting behind closed doors with fellow Republicans. He said that Democrats’ attempts to pressure Republicans on the issue during the Senate’s just-completed spring recess had failed.

“The situation when we broke for the recess two weeks ago was that there were 52 Republican senators who didn’t think we needed either a hearing or a vote in committee. And today two weeks later we have 52 Republicans who think we don’t need either a hearing or a vote in committee,” McConnell said. “I think it’s safe to say there will not be hearings or votes. I think it is also safe to say the next president, whoever that may be, is going to be the person who chooses the next Supreme Court justice.”

Garland is also meeting with Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas on Tuesday, and has several meetings scheduled with Democrats.

Close to 20 GOP senators have said they are willing to meet Garland, though most oppose letting the confirmation process progress. Collins and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois are the only two who have called for hearings. Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran had also said he thought there should be hearings, but reversed that position after conservative backlash.

Grassley’s office said Monday that he invited the judge to breakfast, though reiterated that he would not change his mind on the issue. Collins noted that the Iowa senator had at least extended that courtesy.

“Let’s see if after that meeting Sen. Grassley still holds to the position that there should not be hearings,” she said.

Collins said Garland is well-informed and thoughtful and that her colleagues would be impressed with him. She has spoken out at caucus meetings to try to convince others to have meetings and support hearings.

“It would be ironic if the next president happens to be a Democrat, and chooses someone who is far to Judge Garland’s left,” she said.

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