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Sen. Mark Kirk: Obama's Supreme Court pick deserves fair hearing in Senate

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is breaking ranks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the issue of filing the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. | Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama should nominate a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and the Senate should consider the appointment, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., announced on Monday, splitting from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and GOP presidential contenders.

Kirk, facing a tough re-election bid this year, wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed posted online Monday that an Obama nominee deserves a hearing in the GOP-controlled Senate. That nominee should not “speak or act in the extreme,” he wrote.

“I recognize the right of the president, be it Republican or Democrat, to place before the Senate a nominee for the Supreme Court and I fully expect and look forward to President Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider,” Kirk wrote.

“I also recognize my duty as a senator to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing along with a complete and transparent release of all requested information.”

McConnell sparked an election-year controversy when he said — within hours after news of Scalia’s sudden death at a West Texas resort broke on Feb. 13 — that the vacancy should be unfilled “until we have a new president.”

Kirk, perhaps the most at-risk senator in 2016, so far is offering the strongest, most unequivocal GOP Senate opposition to McConnell.

McConnell’s challenge to Obama’s appointment authority came just as Republican presidential rivals were debating in Greenville, South Carolina. Donald Trump said that if Obama sends a name to the Senate for considerations, the Senate should run out the clock on an Obama nominee by “delay, delay, delay” until he is out of office.

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Sen. Mark Kirk op-ed: Scalia replacement must ‘bridge differences’

By taking the position that Obama — with more than 300 days still left in office — should not send a nominee to the Senate, McConnell enraged Democrats and created an issue seized by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., the front-runner in the three-way Democratic Illinois Senate primary on March 15.

Duckworth had been pressuring Kirk to say whether he supports McConnell’s gambit. After the op-ed was posted, Duckworth said in a statement that Kirk “should go a step further” and ask McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, “to end their obstruction and hold hearings and allow a vote on a nominee.”

In a statement, Andrea Zopp, the underdog in the March 15 primary, used the occasion to criticize both Duckworth and Kirk for not offering “specifics,” though its hard to see what more can be said until Obama taps a nominee.

That Kirk, who represents Obama’s adopted home state, staked out this turf is not surprising. Kirk’s prospects for a second term depend on votes from independents and crossover Democrats.

Kirk’s op-ed urging Obama to send the Senate a nominee was timed for after Scalia’s funeral on Saturday, and before the Senate meets this week for the first time since the death of the conservative Supreme Court justice.

On Monday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte , R-N.H., who is at odds with Kirk’s position on Scalia, headlined a fundraising lunch for Kirk at the Chicago Club, 81 E. Van Buren St.

“I believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the American people have spoken by electing a new president,” Ayotte said in Feb. 14 statement.

Obama returned to Springfield on Feb. 10, in a nostalgic visit to the State Capitol where he served in the Illinois Senate. In his speech to the Illinois General Assembly, the president deplored the partisanship that has spawned “a poisonous political climate.”

Kirk noted Obama’s plea to find common ground and rise above partisanship in his op-ed: “My sincerest hope is that President Obama nominates someone who captures the sentiment he spoke about before the Illinois General Assembly this month — a nominee who can bridge differences, a nominee that finds common ground and a nominee that does not speak or act in the extreme.”

Kirk concluded, “Such a selection by the President would demonstrate a break from the rancor and partisanship of Washington and a real commitment to a new beginning even as his own term nears its end.”

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