Mark Kirk breaks ranks, calls for up or down vote on Garland

AP originally predicted that Merrick Garland would be confirmed as the new SCOTUS Associate Justice sooner or later, a position which seemed to be bolstered when seven Republican senators agreed to at least meet with the new nominee. But since then, not much more has happened. There have been some courtesy calls, of course, but Chuck Grassley’s position (as well as that of Mitch McConnell) hasn’t changed much in the intervening time. Now there’s been a crack in the wall of resistance, though. Embattled Illinois Senator Mark Kirk has essentially abandoned ship and made a public call for the GOP to “man up” and just hold some hearings and have an up or down vote. (Washington Post)

Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois on Friday became the first Republican senator to call for an up-or-down vote on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, saying on a Chicago radio show that his colleagues ought to “just man up and cast a vote.”

That Kirk would be first to break with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other GOP colleagues, who believe the next president should pick the replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, is not particularly surprising: Kirk was already one of two Republican senators, with Susan Collins of Maine, to call for hearings.
Kirk, speaking Friday morning on WLS-AM, said that the Senate “should go through the process the Constitution has already laid out” but that he did not see McConnell relenting before the election.

“I think given Mitch’s view, I don’t see his view changing too much,” Kirk said. “Eventually we will have an election, and we will have a new president, and the new president will come forward with a nomination.”

This isn’t exactly the first time we’ve seen Kirk leaning toward this position. Back on February 23rd he was already flirting with the idea of pushing for a vote, though he later backed off from that a bit. But what does such a position buy him? When he first began talking this way, our friend Hugh Hewitt predicted that he’d pretty much opened the door to his own retirement and the ascension of Tammy Duckworth to his seat.

Whatever response he expected to receive, Kirk will likely be disappointed. First of all, his newly redefined position came with a rather large caveat. He made it clear the he is calling for both hearings and an up or down vote, but went on to say that it probably wasn’t going to happen and that there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. That may have the virtue of being true, but it also wasn’t going to stop his liberal opposition in Illinois from continuing to trash him on the subject. In fact, he’d no sooner finished the interview than they were up on the air saying he’d not gone far enough.

At least some Democrats were not impressed by Kirk’s willingness to break with McConnell: “If Senator Kirk were serious about fulfilling his constitutional responsibilities, he would publicly rebuke the strategy of the Republican Majority Leader he voted for, not predict the strategy’s success,” said Sean Savett, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Kirk’s seat was always going to be dodgy for this cycle. He replaced Barack Obama in the Senate as part of the Republican wave of 2010 when Democrat turnout was at its nadir, but now he’ll be facing a significantly blue electorate who will likely show up in their normal numbers in November. The real questions regarding his prospects this fall come down to principles and expediency. What does it gain Kirk to take an opposition stance here? If you’re going to adopt the same position as your Democratic opponent anyway, why wouldn’t the voters simply go with an actual Democrat rather than the Democrat Lite? Sticking with the conservatives at least demonstrates integrity and gives the voters two clear options when they enter the ballot booth.

Mark Kirk