As the Senate returns from its two-week recess, Republicans face growing pressure to change their position on refusing to take up President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the late Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court, particularly after two decisions on the evenly divided court went against them.
Last week, a deadlocked Supreme Court handed a win to public sector unions , staying a lower court decision that ruled unions could collect dues from employees who were not members of the unions.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., applauded the win for unions but also said in a statement, “[T]he fact that the court deadlocked on a 4-4 split is also a reminder that the American people deserve a fully functioning Supreme Court.” She urged Republicans to “stop playing political games” and allow hearings and a vote on Garland.
He will meet this week with two more Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and John Boozman of Arkansas, as Republican leadership in the chamber holds strong on its pledge to not hold a hearing or a vote on the nomination. Opponents believe that the next president, not Obama, should nominate Scalia's successor.
Collins has said she plans to sit down on Tuesday with Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Boozman, according to a White House official, will meet with him that day as well.
Collins and Boozman will bring Garland's meetings with Republican senators to three. He met last Tuesday with Sen. Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, a vulnerable Republican in an uphill battle for re-election in November.
Garland will also meet Tuesday with Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, her office announced, and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., according to the White House official.
Everything You Need to Know About the Supreme Court Battle
He is to meet Wednesday with a trio of Judiciary Committee Democrats: Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
A coalition of liberal groups plan to continue events in vulnerable Republican senators’ home states. Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would address activists on a call with MoveOn.org on Monday. Also, he said groups will continue to hold events in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Illinois and Wisconsin, and his group is conducting a "visibility campaign" in the nation's capital to stress the need for nine Supreme Court justices.
"We just got started," Woodhouse said on a Friday afternoon conference call with reporters. "We’re going to surround them. We’re going to see them at home, we’re going to see them in Washington.”
One vulnerable incumbent dug in on NBC's “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
“I think it's pretty problematic,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said of filling a vacancy on the court during a presidential election year. “And particularly with the Judge Garland in Wisconsin here, he appears to be pretty hostile to Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms, which would not be popular in Wisconsin. So I'm doing my job in protecting the Second Amendment rights of Wisconsinites by just withholding my consent.”
Other groups are also taking action. For example, nearly 60 law professors wrote Republican Sen. Dan Coats, urging him to consider Garland’s nomination, three days after Coats’ Indiana Senate counterpart, Democrat Joe Donnelly, sat down with Garland.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Democratic outside groups' efforts have not swayed Republicans.
"The poll numbers haven’t moved. No senators have changed their minds or changed their principled positions—and every liberal special interest group involved in the project must be starting to wonder about the wisdom of spending all that money for zero change," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart wrote in an email.
After news broke of Boozman’s meeting with Garland, the Arkansas Republican told The Associated Press that he is still opposed to filling the Supreme Court vacancy during a presidential year.
On Sunday, Arkansas’ junior senator, Republican Tom Cotton, was not asked whether he would meet with Garland, but reiterated that the next president should fill the vacancy.
“There’s no doubt that [Garland]’s left of center. But this is not really about Judge Garland. This is not Judge Garland as a person or as a jurist,” Cotton said in an interview on “Talk Business and Politics” in Arkansas. “This is about the principle of letting the people decide. And they’re the ultimate people who govern our society.”
Cotton said he did not anticipate the Senate would consider Garland in the lame duck session between the November election and when the new Congress is sworn in in January, to pre-empt a more liberal nominee if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is elected president.
“Clearly, if the American people elect Hillary Clinton or for that matter Bernie Sanders, then they’re going to make this nomination,” Cotton said. “Again, I hope that’s not the case, but they’ll make the nomination and in due course we should consider it on the merits and have a vote.”
Facing pressure from conservative groups, one Republican who had originally backed hearings for Obama’s nominee changed his position.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, told constituents during a town hall the first week of recess that “the process ought to go forward.”
“I would rather have you (constituents) complaining to me that I voted wrong on nominating somebody than saying I’m not doing my job,” Moran said on March 21, according to The Garden City Telegram . But on Friday, Moran said a hearing was not necessary after speaking with Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, as first reported by The National Review.
“Senator Moran called Senator Grassley to discuss his position,” said a senior Moran aide in a statement. “As Senator Moran has said, he is opposed to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.”
“He has examined Judge Garland’s record and didn’t need hearings to conclude that the nominee’s judicial philosophy, disregard for Second Amendment Rights and sympathy for federal government bureaucracy make Garland unacceptable to serve on the Supreme Court,” the aide continued. “Senator Moran remains committed to preventing this president from putting another justice on the highest court in the land.”
— Kate Ackley and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.
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