Republicans rush to brand Obama's court pick a 'liberal' as cracks form in their ranks

Mitch mcconnellWin McNamee/GettySenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, right.

The GOP is rushing to label US President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court tap as a “liberal” in an attempt to squash a divide among its ranks.

Obama unveiled his pick, Judge Merrick Garland, Wednesday morning.

Almost immediately, GOP-aligned groups sought to brand Garland as a jurist who would be aligned with the left-wing of the court on key issues like gun control.

Indeed, the Republican National Committee’s “Meet Merrick Garland” research file used the world “liberal” 32 times, as well as in almost every one of the points it stressed.

That came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that his party wouldn’t be holding a hearing for Garland because of “principle” and not because of “the person.”

“The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration,” McConnell said. “The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”

McConnell said he wouldn’t even meet with Garland after hearing of the announcement.

But his Republican colleagues are at least a bit more open to meeting with Garland. The White House reportedly said that Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would meet with Garland following the upcoming Senate recess.

Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Jeff Inhofe of Oklahoma, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio all said they would also be open to meeting with Garland. However, they didn’t necessarily say they’d be open to ultimately holding a confirmation hearing for him.

Kirk, who is facing a tough reelection this year in a Democratic-leaning state, has perhaps gone the furthest of his entire caucus. He previously said he has a “duty as a senator to either vote in support or opposition” for whomever Obama nominated.

“The Senate’s constitutionally defined role to provide advice and consent is as important as the president’s role in proposing a nominee, and I will assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications,” Kirk added Wednesday.

Barack obama rose garden merrick garland supreme courtMark Wilson/Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama in the Rose Garden as he announces Merrick Garland as his Supreme Court pick.

Others GOP senators, such as Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, signalled that they could be open to the confirmation process for Garland if he were nominated by Obama’s successor in 2017. While Flake said he’d consider voting for Garland during the lame-duck session after the November election should Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, be elected.

“For those of us who are concerned about the direction of the court and wanting at least a more centrist figure than between him and somebody that President Clinton might nominate, I think the choice is clear — in a lame duck,” Flake told Politico.

“What’s the point of falling on our swords if Trump’s going to lose,” one GOP lawmaker told The Hill anonymously.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid predicted in a statement that Republicans were “backing down so quickly that they’re already bargaining about what month they will fully cave and confirm Judge Garland.”

The cracks within McConnell’s party aren’t indicative that his plan will crumble. Indeed, no GOP senators have said they’re actually willing to cast a vote for Garland. But Brian Deese, a senior adviser to Obama who led the White House’s vetting process that picked Garland, said the Republican senators were showing a swift change of heart.

“I am old enough to remember a few weeks ago when Republicans said uniformly they wouldn’t even meet with our nominee,” Deese said in a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

He continued: “And just in the past hour since the President announced him in the Rose Garden, we’ve seen more than a handful of Republicans announce that they were willing to meet with our nominee.”

Garland, 63, was nominated to the DC circuit court by former President Bill Clinton in 1997. Although he was confirmed by a 76-23 margin, both McConnell and Grassley voted against him at the time, according to Politico.

Seven current Senate Republicans did vote in favour of Garland — Collins, Cochran, Inhofe, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John McCain of Arizona, Dan Coats of Indiana, and Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Though Garland is seen by court-watchers as a centrist or center-left judge, he has also been known to swing to the right on criminal-law issues.

“To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing, let alone an up-or-down vote to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise, that would be unprecedented,” Obama said Wednesday in the Rose Garden while announcing his court nomination.

The president added: “It would be a betrayal of our best traditions and a betrayal of the vision of our founding documents.”

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