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Sweet: Senate GOP must be ‘rational’ about court pick, Kirk says

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., fielded questions from reporters before his meeting Tuesday with Merrick Garland. | Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

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WASHINGTON – Under a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., met with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland on Tuesday and called on his GOP Senate colleagues to be “rational” and not block consideration of President Barack Obama’s pick.

“We need rational, adult open-minded consideration of the constitutional process which Judge Garland is part of,” Kirk said, scolding his GOP Senate leadership with Garland seated next to him.

“He’s been duly nominated by the elected president of the United States to fill a vacancy which we know exists on the court, and we need open-minded, rational, responsible people to keep an open mind to make sure the process works,” Kirk said.

Kirk and Garland huddled for about 25 minutes in Kirk’s Hart Senate Building office, with Kirk distancing himself further from his GOP Senate leadership by being the first Republican senator to meet with the federal appellate judge.

Garland, born in Chicago and raised in north suburban Lincolnwood, now lives in Bethesda, Maryland. However, Kirk treated Garland as if he were still an Illinois resident, calling him “my own constituent,” one of the “most eminent jurists in the country” and someone he “obviously” would consider supporting.


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Before the meeting started, Kirk took questions from reporters while Garland, as per standard practice of any presidential nominee, was mainly mute – though at the end he answered a question I asked best understood by a person from Lincolnwood.

Before Tuesday, Garland, picked March 16 by Obama, met with seven senators – all Democrats, meaning they have no power to force Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold confirmation hearings or a vote.

Hours after Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, McConnell told Obama not to nominate a replacement, arguing that the slot should be filled by the next president.

Kirk is facing a tough re-election battle against Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and his aggressive support of Obama over filling the Scalia vacancy comes out of his political playbook of, on specific issues, going against his Senate leaders.

Asked about his comment on his GOP colleagues not being open minded and rational, Kirk said, “I think when you just say I’m not going to meet with him and all, that’s too closed-minded.”

Kirk said he wanted to discuss with Garland RICO statutes, especially in the wake of about three dozen Chicago-area shootings during the Easter weekend.

“For me, I want to test the limits of RICO to attack the big drug gangs in Chicago so it is not the headquarters of Murder Incorporated,” Kirk said.

Duckworth’s team is attacking Kirk for not pushing McConnell harder to lift the Garland blockade. Kirk “seems to expect extra credit for doing the bare minimum – in this case, his job,” Duckworth deputy campaign manager Matt McGrath said in a statement.

On Thursday, a group of organizations — all Democrat allied — are holding a news conference at the Planned Parenthood of Illinois offices in Chicago to thank Kirk and at the same time prod him to tackle McConnell.

I asked Kirk if he could do more to pressure McConnell – who, I understand, has no problem with Kirk if it helps him win in November.

“I think I am doing it by being the first. … I am showing what a rational, responsible guy would do that really wants the constitutional process to go forward.”


Where Garland grew up in Lincolnwood is close to the Chicago neighborhood where I was raised, so I know from Lincolnwood. As reporters were leaving, I asked Garland simply, Lou Malnati’s or L. Woods? The two Lincolnwood restaurants are a few blocks apart on Lincoln Avenue.

Garland chuckled. He knew the reference.

“Both,” he said. “Good answer,” Kirk said. “Good answer.”

Later, through a Kirk staffer, I heard Garland honed his opinion: Malnati’s for pizza and L. Woods for ribs. I concur.

Reporters in the hallway outside the office of Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Kirk met with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland Tuesday afternoon. | Lynn Sweet/Chicago Sun-Times
Reporters in the hallway outside the office of Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Kirk met with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland Tuesday afternoon. | Lynn Sweet/Chicago Sun-Times

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