Illinois Senator Mark Kirk broke ranks with his fellow Senate Republican threats to block any Supreme Court nominee that President Barack Obama puts forward. The senator’s announcement was the latest in backtracking by Republicans since they demanded that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement be chosen by the next president — who they assume will be more acceptably conservative.
In an opinion piece published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Kirk said, “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 Barack Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider.”
The senator’s remarks came a week and a half after the Chicago Sun-Times published an editorial demanding that he do his job and hold hearings when Obama nominates his Supreme Court pick: “The simple answer is yes. Of course the Senate should,” it read, “That is their job: To ‘advise and consent.’ Nowhere in the Constitution does it say ‘hold your breath and hope to die.'”
But that hasn’t stopped Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from vowing to block any nominee Obama puts forth. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” he said in a statement shortly after Scalia’s death was announced. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
Numerous Republicans, including all presidential candidates still in the race, lined up behind him and made the same demand. Ronald Reagan — his ghost haunts this election season, and has many others — nominated Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court in November 1987. The Senate vote confirming him took place in February 1988, during Reagan’s last year in office.
As a Republican senator from a Democratic state up for reelection this year, Kirk is walking a political tight rope. As a moderate Republican, he has often taken a center ground in polarizing political debates. He’s voted alongside Republicans on issues like building a border wall with Mexico, Bush-era tax cuts, and invading Iraq. But he as also voted in favor of gay marriage rights, funding public housing, and abortion rights.
If Kirk is seen as too conservative, he risks losing his reelection bid to a Democrat. Should he be seen as too moderate, he might not even make it on the Republican ticket. He’s gotten the “RINO” charge before.
Whether or not more Republicans step back from the untenable position McConnell and the Republican leadership has taken remains to be seen. But the cracks in their defiant front are getting harder to paper over.