Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas is facing a backlash from two conservative groups for his call this week for the Senate to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
One of the groups said it would launch an ad campaign targeting Moran while the other threatened to support a challenger from the right against the first-term senator in the Republican primary later this year.
Moran’s position is at odds with Senate GOP leaders and most rank-and-file Senate Republicans who believe a new president should nominate a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, a hero of the right who died suddenly earlier this year.
Only two other Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois, both moderates, are calling for hearings.
“Grassroots activists in Kansas and across the country are furious that Senator Jerry Moran has decided to join President Obama in denying them a voice in the next Supreme Court Justice with their votes in November,” Jenny Beth Martin, a tea party activist, said in a statement. “It’s this kind of outrageous behavior that leads Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund activists and supporters to think seriously about encouraging Dr. Milton Wolf to run against Sen. Moran in the August GOP primary.”
Wolf gave a scare to Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts two years ago when he challenged the longtime senator in a primary, but Wolf ended up losing by seven points.
Another group fighting against Garland’s confirmation, the Judicial Crisis Network, said it was preparing ads against Moran, according to the Topeka Capital Journal.
“We are in the process of putting the finishing touches on a robust, multi-faceted TV, digital, and grassroots campaign designed to remind Senator Moran that he represents the people of Kansas and neither President Obama nor the Democratic Party,” Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel was quoted as saying by the paper.
The twin challenge could cause a headache for Moran, who was elected with 70% of the vote six years ago.
The fury started when Moran told a town hall gathering Wednesday, “I would rather have you (his constituents) complaining to me that I voted wrong on nominating somebody than saying I’m not doing my job,” according to a report in the Garden City Telegram.
In a statement, Moran reiterated his opposition to Garland.
“I am opposed to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and this administration’s attempt to put another liberal judge on the Supreme Court,” Moran said. “As I have said since the vacancy was created, I believe I have a duty to ask tough questions and demand answers. I am certain a thorough investigation would expose Judge Garland’s record and judicial philosophy, and disqualify him in the eyes of Kansans and Americans.”
Garland to meet with Kirk
Also Friday, a White House official said Garland will meet next Tuesday with Kirk, making him the first Republican senator to sit down face-to-face with the embattled nominee. An aide to the senator confirmed the meeting but could not give specifics on where and when exactly it would take place
Kirk is considered perhaps the most endangered GOP incumbent senator as he runs for a second term in the blue-leaning Illinois against Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth. He was one of the first GOP voices saying he would meet with Garland — who is from Illinois — and eventually announced the judge should get hearings and a vote on confirmation.
“Just man up and cast a vote,” Kirk told WLS radio a week ago. “The tough thing about these senatorial jobs is you get yes or no votes. Your whole job is to either say yes or no, and explain why.”
Garland will meet on Monday with two Democrats, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
The White House hopes the attention the visit gets in Indiana will put pressure on that state’s Republican senator, Dan Coats, to meet with the judge. Coats was quoted by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in February saying President Barack Obama’s nominee deserves a hearing, but he has also said it would be best to wait for a new president to nominate someone to fill the vacancy. Coats voted to confirm Garland in 1997 to be the chief judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
Garland will also meet with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, next Wednesday.