“By leading by example I’m showing what a rational, responsible guy would do that really wants the constitutional process to go forward.”
Mark Kirk could have been back in Illinois waging what might be the most difficult reelection campaign in Congress. Instead, the Republican senator was on Capitol Hill Tuesday drawing national attention for meeting with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
Kirk became the first Republican to meet with Garland, a huddle that took place in the middle of a long congressional recess and was covered by more than 50 journalists. It featured some impromptu remarks by Kirk, who's been tight-lipped in the Capitol as he fights to save his job in November.
Sitting beside Garland in his office, Kirk lavished praise on the Illinois native as a “brilliant” legal mind who is “one of the most eminent jurists in the country.” Then he shifted to his own party’s blockade of Garland, remarking that Republican senators who won’t even meet with Garland are “too close-minded.”
“Judge Garland, he’s been duly nominated by the elected president of the United States to fill a vacancy which we know exists on the court. We need open-minded, rational, responsible people to keep an open mind to make sure the process works,” Kirk said. “When you just say you’re not going to meet them and all that, it’s too close-minded."
“This is a perfect opportunity for Senator Kirk to illustrate his independent brand,” said one national GOP strategist, adding that it could help him politically since Garland is from the Chicago area.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Senate leaders are giving Kirk plenty of space by to carve out his own stance on the Supreme Court. He's receiving little pressure to toe the party line, sources said. Earlier this month Kirk demanded that Republicans “man up” and vote on the nomination. It was a stark contrast to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), who faces a similarly perilous reelection path but said Tuesday in an email that he is "getting strong support" back home for backing McConnell's "no hearings, no votes" strategy.
Publicly, Kirk and McConnell have agreed to disagree.
Back home in Illinois, Kirk’s stance has drawn mixed reviews. Democrats are urging him to oppose McConnell as the head of the Senate GOP, a non-starter, while a prominent law professor praised Kirk in the state’s largest newspaper but pleaded with him to go further and convince his colleagues to take up Garland.
Still, Kirk is winning allies who don’t traditionally speak well of Republicans. On Thursday, a coalition including Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club will hold a press conference thanking the senator for his stance.
There are indeed rational, sensible, and patriotic Republicans that yet live and work among us. Apparently a few remain in congress representing American interests (rather than their own and the party interests) and fighting to uphold The Constitution. Senator Kirk is one of the few and is deserving of thanks from ALL rational conservatives and republicas.
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