The Slatest

Sen. Kirk and Sen. Collins Provide Rare GOP Acknowledgement That Obama is Still President

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s Bench Chair draped in black after his death on Feb. 15, 2016 in Washington, DC.  

Photograph by Franz Jantzen/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States via Getty Images

In a move that amounts to an uncommon sense of decorum at the moment, Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk broke with his party’s leadership and announced he supported President Obama carrying out his constitutional responsibility to nominate a Supreme Court justice to replace Justice Scalia on the court. Kirk, considered a moderate by current Republican standards, weighed in on the Mitch McConnell-inspired obstructionism of the nomination process in an opinion piece in the Chicago Sun-Times Monday:

… I recognize the right of the president, be it Republican or Democrat, to place before the Senate a nominee for the Supreme Court and I fully expect and look forward to President Barack Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider. I also recognize my duty as a senator to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing along with a complete and transparent release of all requested information.

Of course, there also appear to be political factors at play in Kirk’s announcement. “Kirk, perhaps the most politically vulnerable of incumbent Republicans nationally this fall, had come under pressure from Democratic rivals vying for their party’s nomination to say if he agreed with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and others who have said Obama should not forward the name of a nominee for Senate approval in an election year,” the Chicago Tribune notes. “Illinois has trended significantly Democratic in presidential election years, meaning Kirk could face strong headwinds in November.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) struck a similar tone on Monday in an interview with CNN. “For my part, it’s clear that the president can send up a nominee—regardless of where he is before he leaves office,” Collins told CNN. “It is the duty of the Senate, under the Constitution, to give our advice and give our consent or withhold our consent. I believe we should follow the regular order and give careful consideration to any nominee that the president may send to the Senate.”

Collins, who is also considered a centrist member of the GOP caucus in the Senate, represents a state that is libertarian to the point of being downright ornery, making the latest surge in GOP support for not railroading the judicial nomination process—from zero Republicans to two Republicans—far from a bellwether indicating a strategic shift in the party’s thinking. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center, however, does show a majority of Americans believe the Senate, at the very least, should hold hearings on a potential Obama Supreme Court choice.

The numbers from Pew found Democrats feel more strongly in favor (79 percent) of the Senate acting on an Obama nominee than Republicans are against it (66 percent). More importantly, a majority of independents (56 percent) think the nomination process should go forward while Obama is in the Oval Office.