Sen. Kirk calls for GOP to ‘man up,’ vote on Merrick Garland

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U.S. Sen Mark Kirk, R-Ill., gives a thumbs up after he defeated Oswego businessman James Marter in Illinois’ Republican primary in Chicago, Tuesday March 15, 2016. (Kevin Tanaka/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES; CHICAGO TRIBUNE OUT ORG XMIT: ILCHN202

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., on Friday said his GOP colleagues should “man up and cast a vote” on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, further breaking from his GOP Senate leadership as the first Senate Republican to call for an up-or-down roll call.

Kirk’s position is not surprising since he already has said, in an op-ed published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Feb. 22, that President Barack Obama has a right to send a nominee to the Senate and that person should get a hearing.

In a Thursday column, I wrote that if there ever is a vote, Kirk would be a yes for Garland, born in Chicago and raised in north suburban Lincolnwood. Kirk will not be able to say no to an Illinois native, considering that the uproar over a Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia is coming as Kirk faces a big re-election battle against Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

“We should go through the process the Constitution has already laid out. The president has already laid out a nominee who is from Chicagoland and for me, I’m open to see him, to talk to him, and ask him his views on the Constitution,” Kirk during an interview on WLS-AM’s Big John Howell Show.

In the radio interview, Kirk said: “Just man up and cast a vote. The tough thing about these senatorial jobs is you get ‘yes’ or ‘no’ votes. Your whole job is to either say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and explain why.”

Obama tapped Garland, a 1970 graduate of Niles West High School in Skokie, on Thursday.

Merrick B. Garland is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit. | AP file photo

Merrick B. Garland is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit. | AP file photo

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., told Garland on Thursday he would not meet with him. Hours after Scalia died on Feb. 13 at a West Texas resort, McConnell — who controls what gets called for a vote in the Senate — said the Senate would not act on any Obama nominee and the seat should be empty “until we have a new president.”

Howell asked Kirk if “it a foregone conclusion” that Garland’s appointment was “just kind of DOA” and Kirk said the more likely scenario is that the next president will get the pick.

“I think that given Mitch’s view, I don’t see his view changing too much. You know, eventually, we’ll have an election and we will have a new president. The new president will obviously come forward with a nomination. And that’s all for the politics of a new time,” Kirk said.

Duckworth’s campaign team said Kirk — even though he was out front of every other Republican senator — had not gone far enough. That’s a theme that the Duckworth forces and White House Democratic allies, working to pressure McConnell for a vote, will seize on in the days ahead.

Democratic Party of Illinois Senior Communications Advisor Sean Savett, who is working with the Duckworth campaign, said that Kirk should “publicly rebuke McConnell and his Republican leadership’s strategy and ask them to stop obstructing an Illinois native’s nomination. He said Senators should vote yes or no today, not the leadership should change their strategy and give Senators that chance.”

Kirk spoke out about Garland as Duckworth’s team is stepping up efforts to leverage Kirk’s recent interview with NBC Chicago’s Mary Ann Ahern when he told her he would back GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump if he were the nominee.

Kirk has not endorsed any contender in the Republican primary. Ahern asked Kirk if he would support Trump, if nominated, and Kirk said, “If he is the nominee, I certainly would.”

Savett said in a statement: “Kirk’s refusal to advocate on behalf of an eminently qualified Illinoisan is all the more galling given the increasing likelihood that Donald Trump will be his party’s nominee and potentially be in position to fill this Supreme Court vacancy.”

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