03:48 - Source: CNN
Will SCOTUS fight hurt most vulnerable GOP senators?

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, backs hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland

Most of her GOP colleagues do not

Washington CNN  — 

Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland met with a key moderate Republican senator Tuesday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell swiftly issued a reminder that he doesn’t plan hearings or a vote on the nomination.

In comments after a private meeting of the Republican conference, McConnell said he is not budging despite an all-out effort from Democrats and progressive activists over the congressional recess to pressure GOP senators – especially those up for re-election – to reconsider their opposition to Garland.

“The situation when we broke for the recess two weeks ago was that there were 52 Republican senators who didn’t think we needed either hearings or a vote in committee. Today, two weeks later, we have 52 Republicans who think we don’t need either hearings or a vote in committee,” McConnell told reporters.

“I think it is safe to say there will not be hearings or votes,” he added.

His comments came after Republican Sen. Susan Collins was effusive in her praise of Garland after a private meeting with the judge Tuesday and predicted many of her GOP colleagues would feel the same way if they reversed course and decided to meet with him.

“I am not optimistic that I will be changing minds on this issue, but I think that if more of my colleagues sit down with Judge Garland that they are going to be impressed with him,” Collins told reporters after the hour long session in her Capitol Hill office.

“I found Judge Garland to be well informed, thoughtful, impressive, extraordinarily bright, and with a sensitivity that I look for to the appropriate roles that the Constitution assigns to the three branches,” Collins said after discussing the Second Amendment, executive authority, and other pressing court issues with the judge.

Collins’ comments come as GOP resistance is hardening against Garland – as few are willing to break ranks from conservative activists willing to pummel anyone who considers defecting.

GOP Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas – despite reversing himself after calling for hearings – could face a serious primary challenge now. And Sen. John Boozman, who is up for re-election in conservative Arkansas, made pains to hide from the media despite privately meeting with Garland on Tuesday. Boozman later issued a statement saying he opposed moving forward with confirmation proceedings.

Collins, along with fellow moderate Mark Kirk of Illinois, are the only two Republican senators willing to vote on Garland’s confirmation. Kirk is facing a daunting re-election challenge in his Democratic-leaning state. Collins is not up for re-election this year.

Garland is the veteran chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who was picked by President Barack Obama to replace the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, after he died in February. At the time of Scalia’s death, GOP leaders immediately said a nominee should wait for a new president to be elected.

Collins said she believes McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, “are very sincere in their belief” that a new justice should be chosen by whomever wins the White House in November. “I don’t happen to agree with that and I believe we should follow the normal order and proceed with hearings.”

While Collins declined to criticize McConnell’s strategy, she acknowledged it would be “ironic” if the next president picks someone more liberal than the centrist Garland.

“It would be ironic if the next president happens to be a Democrat and chooses someone who is far to Judge Garland’s left. But we really don’t know what’s going to happen this very strange political year, so I think what we should do is follow the normal process with the nominee that has been sent up by the president,” she said.

Moran facing primary challenge?

Moran has been lashed by his party’s right wing for initially supporting confirmation proceedings. He later reversed his position, but his GOP critics have pounced. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, is now openly considering a primary challenge against him, with a spokesman saying in an email Tuesday that Pompeo “will serve however best the people of Kansas want him to.”

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Moran said his reelection bid is “strong and significant” and he’s in a “position to have a very successful campaign.

“We’ve always planned for an opponent,” Moran said of Pompeo. “You always hope you don’t have one. But you always expect one.”

Asked if he was surprised by the backlash from the right by floating confirmation hearings, Moran said: “I have no comment on anything to do with the nomination process beyond what I already said.”

McConnell declined to respond directly when asked about conservative groups attacking his colleagues. But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid seized on Moran’s reversal, saying he “folded in intimidation” from “groups led by the Koch brothers.”

Garland also met Tuesday with two Democrats, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.