Politics

Kirk Urges Republicans to Meet with Garland

Vulnerable senator does not ask them to break with leaders on holding a vote for the court nominee

Merrick Garland, left, and Mark Kirk, right, met last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mark Kirk urged fellow Republicans on Wednesday to meet with Merrick Garland, but stopped short of calling on them to break with leadership and push for a vote on the Supreme Court nominee.  

In a memo he circulated during lunch with colleagues, Kirk said that he and Garland "had a positive conversation, and I encourage you to meet with him."  

Kirk of Illinois was the first Republican to meet with President Barack Obama's choice to replace the Antonin Scalia, who died in February.  

Republican leaders who control the Senate have refused to consider the selection, saying such a momentous appointment should be made by the next president, not Obama, who leaves office next January.  

Kirk said in a brief interview after lunch that the reaction from his colleagues was "pretty good."  

"I think they all understand that I have to be separate from the leader," Kirk said, noting that he represents Illinois, which tends to lean Democratic.  

Kirk faces a tight re-election race against Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth in November, a contest the Rothenberg-Gonzalez Political Report/Roll Call rates as Tilts Democratic .  

Kirk has been forceful in calling for a hearing of Garland's qualifications and even called on his colleagues to "just man up and call a vote ."  

However, his memo did not go that far; it simply suggests a meeting.  

"I've heard in the rumor network that there are up to 15 [Republicans] who will meet with him," Kirk explained. "And my hope [is] that people do follow my example, because I do think that they would like him more and be less afraid of him."  

"The strongest thing I can do is just to break from the pack and be unlike everybody else," Kirk later added.  

The Kirk memo that was first reported by CNN , he shared what he discussed with Garland, who currently sits as chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  

Their discussion delved into interrogating terror detainees at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prosecuting drug gangs, child sex trafficking, and the role of the 10th Amendment in limiting congressional power.  

Kirk's fellow Illinois senator, Democrat Richard J. Durbin, met with Garland on Wednesday. Garland was raised in Illinois and Durbin said the pair discussed Garland's background as well as other judicial issues.  

Durbin, the Senate Minority Whip, praised both Kirk and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has also been critical of her party leadership's decision not to hold a hearing or vote on Garland.  

"I would say that Sen. Kirk and Sen. Collins have both stood up for a principle that has been in place for 100 years," Durbin told reporters. "It is not a radical position. It is the right and moral and customary position of the Senate to offer nominees a hearing."  

A third Republican senator, John Boozman of Arkansas, sat down with Garland Tuesday, but has not called for the process to move forward.

Contact Bowman at  bridgetbowman@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at @bridgetbhc .

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