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Sweet: Will Judge Garland become a political pinata?

President Barack Obama introduces federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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“Mr. President, it’s a great privilege to be nominated by a fellow Chicagoan,” Merrick Garland said Wednesday, standing next to President Barack Obama as he nominated him for a Supreme Court seat — and unofficially tapped Garland to be the political pinata of the 2016 election season.

There is going to be an enormous battle over the appointment of Garland, raised in Lincolnwood. It’s doubtful from the start whether he will ever get a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate. Garland may end up being Obama’s sacrificial lamb.

Behind the scenes at the White House, allied Democrats have cranked up an enormous campaign to pressure Republicans to give Garland a hearing and a vote — moves that will of course become a sort of parallel universe connected to the Democratic presidential race and the Illinois Senate contest between Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

The pick of a judge with Illinois ties puts added pressure on Kirk, who has already bucked his GOP Senate colleagues by saying that Obama has a right to a nominee and that person deserves a Senate hearing.

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One Democrat I know who’s involved in the Garland drive told me that Kirk — not withstanding his getting out front on the Scalia replacement — “can expect to see people lining up at events he holds, fundraisers and on TV, to make sure that Garland gets an up-or-down vote.” Kirk’s early pre-emptive moves will not get him off the hook.

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And I won’t keep you in suspense with my prediction: Unless Garland is found to have some flaw that comes out in the coming months, I can’t imagine a circumstance in which Kirk, on his own timetable — not one dictated by Duckworth et al — does not say Garland deserves a hearing and a vote. And if it comes to a confirmation roll call, Kirk would be an aye.

Garland comes from the suburban turf Kirk depends on: independents and crossover Democrats. Garland is Jewish, the grandson of Eastern European immigrants who fled rampant anti-Semitism. A crucial part of Kirk’s political coalition is Jewish, and he makes a big deal about that.

Being publicly open to Garland — or not dismissing him out of hand, as his GOP Senate leaders have done — also gives Kirk an easy way to put some much-needed distance between himself and Donald Trump.

U.S. Sen Mark Kirk, R-Ill., gives a thumbs up after he won the Republican primary in Chicago on Tuesday. | Kevin Tanaka/Chicago Sun-Times via AP
U.S. Sen Mark Kirk, R-Ill., gives a thumbs up after he won the Republican primary in Chicago on Tuesday. | Kevin Tanaka/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

For weeks, Duckworth and Democrats have been linking Kirk to Trump. In a release on Wednesday, Duckworth unfairly tied Kirk to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism, saying: “Kirk is more inclined to have Donald Trump select our next Supreme Court justice.”

Do I even have to say this? Trump at the head of the Illinois ticket is no help to Kirk.

The Senate Republican leaders — and all the GOP presidential candidates around on Feb. 13, the day Justice Antonin Scalia died — said Obama should not even think of sending the Senate a name to consider in his last year in office.

The White House is sending Garland up to Capitol Hill to take meetings. “I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up or down vote,” Obama said.

McConnell, R-Ky., called Garland to say he won’t waste Garland’s time.

“Rather than put Judge Garland through more unnecessary political routines orchestrated by the White House, the Leader decided it would be more considerate of the nominee’s time to speak with him today by phone,” McConnell’s office said in a statement.

“. . . And since the Senate will not be acting on this nomination, he would not be holding a perfunctory meeting, but he wished Judge Garland well.”

Kirk will be taking that meeting.

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