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Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkThe way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump ObamaCare repeal bill would defund Planned Parenthood Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood MORE (R-Ill.) broke with his party on Monday to back giving President Obama's Supreme Court nominee a hearing and a vote.
"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," Kirk wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed.
Kirk is one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection in November, with Democrats seeing his seat in blue-leaning Illinois as a prime pick-up opportunity.
The senator had been under pressure from Democrats to clarify whether he agreed with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellStudy: Trump tops recent GOP presidents in signing bills in first 100 days Senate passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown Let’s never talk about a government shutdown — ever again MORE's (R-Ky.) push to keep the court seat vacant until Obama's successor is sworn in.
Kirk's op-ed further highlights the division among Senate Republicans over how to handle the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
He is the first vulnerable incumbent to specifically back giving whoever Obama nominates a hearing and a vote, though Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyComey to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee GOP to kill language exempting staff from new ObamaCare repeal bill House cyber chairman wants to bolster workforce MORE (R-Iowa), who is up for reelection, has not ruled out a hearing before the Judiciary Committee.
Kirk, who is from Obama's home state, added that it is the "right of the president" to nominate someone to the Supreme Court, but that he hopes the president names someone who can "bridge differences" and "find common ground."
"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," he added.
But his comments come as many other vulnerable Republicans have rallied around McConnell's strategy and suggested that Democrats are trying to leapfrog the American people by filling the seat.
The GOP presidential field — including Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSeven key players for Trump on immigration Spicer: Media coverage of Trump has not been fair Kasich finds it hard to rule out 2020 MORE and Ted CruzTed CruzKasich finds it hard to rule out 2020 Trump in campaign mode at NRA convention Trump’s hands are tied on 9th Circuit MORE — has also backed letting the next president select Scalia's successor.
Democrats argue that Republicans are shirking their constitutional duties and have pledged to use the fight as fodder on the campaign trail.