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Republican Sen. Susan Collins responded simply when asked about Mitch McConnel’s stance on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

“I believe that we should follow the regular order in considering this nominee,” she said.

But the Maine senator’s point marks what could be a shift away from McConnel’s — and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s — hardline opposition to holding hearings for Garland.

“The Constitution’s very clear that the president has every right to make the nomination, and then the Senate can either consent or withhold its consent.” The only way to do that is to thoroughly vet the nominee, Collins said, by having personal meetings — and holding public hearings.

McConnell has asserted — starting an hour after Antonin Scalia’s death was confirmed — that he has a right under the Constitution to completely ignore the president’s nomination, arguing that it is part of the separation of powers.

“It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Apart from the fact he is denying the Senate the opportunity to withhold consent, McConnell did not even mention the “advise” part of the appointments clause.

McConnell spoke to Garland by phone Wednesday evening to inform him they would not meet. Garland is making the rounds on Capitol Hill today, initially to talk to Democrats.

Republican senators are starting to move beyond McConnell’s position, agreeing they will meet Garland. This includes Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the Judiciary Committee, who still insists no consideration of the nomination will be made.

Others have gone further, including Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is facing a tough re-election battle against Rep. Tammy Duckworth in November.

Kirk, in a statement issued just hours after President Obama announced the nomination, said: “The Senate’s constitutionally defined role to provide advice and consent is as important as the president’s role in proposing a nominee, and I will assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications.”

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, also facing a tough re-election fight this fall against Gov. Maggie Hassan, said she will meet with Garland but still opposes consideration of the nomination.

Her state has already seen a rash of ads, for and against considering the nomination, a measure of how large a part the issue will play in the election.

But, elsewhere, though national polls suggest 66 percent of voters believe the nominee should be considered, Republican senators are betting that it’s not a big enough issue to make a difference in most races.

Either way, Obama couldn’t have picked a better nominee than Garland, who is by all accounts a centrist jurist with impeccable credentials and a solid record, for the uphill battle. Obama resisted advice to appoint him earlier — Garland has been up for consideration twice before — instead nominating Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor.

Many Republicans admit he is a good nominee, while maintaing that the decision must be left to the next president.

Or not left to the next president, if one somewhat confusing proposal is acted upon.

It goes like this: wait until after November election results, and then the nomination process can begin, with Garland being confirmed before the next president is inaugurated. Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose past praise of Garland has been widely broadcast, said Thursday that scenario is possible because “we would like to treat him fairly.”

Here’s another reading: It’s not clear if Republicans are more worried about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump naming the next Supreme Court justice.

Photo: Mitch McConnell (R-KY) adjusts his glasses while taking questions on the upcoming budget battle on Capitol Hill in Washington September 29, 2015.   REUTERS/Gary Cameron    

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