When Merrick Garland was announced as President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court last month, the GOP appeared armed for battle or at least a blockade. As soon as the nomination happened, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to block it from even being heard. He and his Republican colleagues have stuck to that promise. In the 23 days that have since passed, some GOP senators have begun to stomach the idea of Garland as a potential successor to Justice Antonin Scalia, but the majority still have not—and many still refuse to even meet with the man. As long as these unprecedented levels of obstruction continue, we are going to begin tracking where Garland’s nomination stands and what it is Republican senators are doing with their time instead of considering that nomination in a regular feature we are calling “Garland Watch.”
Presently, 14 Republican senators have agreed to meet Garland, while three have conceded that there should be a hearing on his nomination. A week ago Tuesday, Garland had his first meeting with a Republican senator—Mark Kirk of Illinois. Kirk is among a dwindling number of GOP senators with seats in blue states, and he faces a tough re-election vote this November. He is widely known as a moderate. So, the meeting was not entirely unexpected. But it seems to have been greatly appreciated by a weary Obama. On Thursday, Sen. Kirk tweeted a picture of a handwritten note he had received from the president in a very obvious humblebrag that he is not on Team Obstruction:
Upon meeting with Garland this past Tuesday, meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said that she was “more convinced than ever” that the nominee deserved a hearing. She added that Garland gave, “thorough, impressive responses” to all her questions over the course of their hourlong meeting. Though Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas also met with Garland on Tuesday, he insisted that he only did so out of “courtesy.” That seems to be accurate, as their meeting lasted little longer than 10 minutes.
Other Republican senators are scheduled to be meeting with Garland in the upcoming weeks. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, while resolutely against hearings, conceded the day after Garland’s nomination, “If I can meet with a dictator in Uganda, I can surely meet with a decent person in America.” The Iowa senator has reportedly invited the nominee to breakfast with a time and location still to be decided. That didn’t stop Grassley from repeatedly promising to uphold his decision to refuse to hold hearings on the nomination in multiple Senate floor speeches this week. Grassley, who faces a re-election campaign in Iowa this year, has accused left-wing groups of pressuring him to “flip-flop” on what he describes as a principled stand of refusing to hold hearings for a legitimate judicial nominee.
Facing a tough re-election in a purple state this year, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte will be meeting with Garland next week. She justified her decision by saying, “He does serve on the Circuit Court of Appeals.” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is also confirmed to be meeting with Garland next week. Portman is running nearly even with former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in his own re-election bid.
Sen. Ron Johnson, trailing in polls in his own re-election campaign in Wisconsin, also agreed to a meeting with Garland, though he subsequently said, “I’m not sure what the point would be.” Other senators among the ranks of the GOP’s “open-minded” contingent include: Mike Rounds of Sout Dakota, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and both Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford. Cochran and Inhofe, along with Collins, are also among the handful of Republican senators that confirmed Garland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1997.
Others have faced pressure to be less open to the nomination than they appear to want to be. While Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran had called for judicial hearings on Garland’s nomination, he has since recanted due to significant conservative backlash. Murkowski, too, though in support of hearings as late as February, shifted her position to being against them soon after Garland was named. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, one of Garland’s most steadfast supporters in 1997, said he was “open” to a lame-duck hearing on Garland after next November’s presidential election but opposes one before then.
For all of the GOP’s burgeoning ability to stare Garland in the eyes, little progress has been made in the way of actually moving his nomination forward. In the just under four weeks since Garland was nominated the Senate Judiciary Committee has held a slew of hearings—none of which are related to the nominee.
Among these were two hearings regarding immigration: One on implementing a biometric tracking system to monitor immigrant entry and exit patterns, and a second on instating further reforms to “protect skilled American workers.” Committee Republicans also addressed more long-standing concerns in hearings on executive overreach and the desire for a Balanced Budget Amendment. Sen. Chuck Schumer labeled this latter effort a “convenient political cover,” also noting, “now that the president has announced his pick for the Supreme Court, the majority on this committee has doubled down on their tactic of see no, hear no, speak to no, Supreme Court nominee.”
Reminder: Republicans in Congress have been unsuccessfully pushing for a “Balanced Budget Amendment” at least since 1995, but discussing that again is apparently now more urgent than considering a Supreme Court nominee when the court sits with a series of potentially disastrous 4–4 splits on the horizon.