GOP senators split with leadership on SCOTUS
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A small group of Senate Republicans is breaking with its party's Supreme Court strategy, with lawmakers saying they're willing to meet with President Obama's pick to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Seven Republicans so far have said they are open to considering or meeting with Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia who was nominated for the Supreme Court earlier Wednesday by Obama. 
 
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Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP rep faces testy crowd at constituent meeting over ObamaCare DeVos vows to be advocate for 'great' public schools GOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday MORE (R-Maine) said she agreed to meet with Garland after the White House reached out, but said such a meeting will take place after the Senate returns from its two-week recess in April. 

“The White House has asked me to meet with him, and I've agreed to do so,” Collins said. “I've never refused an offer to meet with a nominee to the Supreme Court; that has always been my standard practice. And, so, I have accepted that offer, and it will be scheduled after the recess." 

Asked if she thinks Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMcConnell breaks with Trump on NATO McConnell: Senate could vote on 3 Trump nominees Friday Dems engage in friendly debate for DNC chair MORE (R-Ky.) will change his mind, the Maine Republican said no.

"I don't see the majority leader changing his mind on this issue. He believes strongly that this should be a decision made by the next president. I don't agree with that decision, but I respect it,” she said. “The irony, however, will be if the next president, whoever that may be, ends up nominating a person who is far more liberal than Judge Garland, who is considered to be a centrist." 

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeUnder Trump, the disruptors return to Washington (that's a good thing) 9 GOP senators Trump must watch out for The road ahead for America’s highways MORE (R-Ariz.) also told reporters that he would meet with Garland, saying, "I meet with people. That's what I do." 
 
Whether to meet with Garland is also splitting vulnerable Republicans who are at the center of the battle for control of the Senate. 
 
 
Ayotte told Politico she would meet with the nominee out of "courtesy" and to explain why she thinks the seat should remain vacant until next year. 
 
Kirk previously told The Hill he would meet with whomever Obama picked, and added Wednesday, "I will assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications."

Despite the early signs of division, McConnell and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell: Senate could vote on 3 Trump nominees Friday Senate seeks deal on Trump nominees Overnight Healthcare: Takeaways from Price's hearing | Trump scrambles GOP health plans MORE (R-Texas) both said Republicans remain committed to keeping Scalia's seat vacant. McConnell and Cornyn, the Senate's top two Republicans, have said they wouldn't meet with Obama's pick.

Cornyn was asked if he's worried about GOP strategy "getting away from" leadership, with some Republicans already saying they'll meet with Garland.

"This person will not be confirmed, so there's no reason going through some motions and pretending like it will happen, because it's not going to happen," he said. 

When asked if the administration could do anything to make McConnell change his mind, Cornyn said, "No. We've made a decision, and now I think we have to continue to explain to people the principle involved is not about the personality." 

Democrats, however, are hoping to target vulnerable incumbents, as well as centrist senators, as they try to force Republicans to cave on their current strategy of blocking Obama's nominee from getting a hearing or a vote. 

Democrats quickly pounced on Portman and Ayotte's statements, suggesting voters shouldn't believe "their blatant political spin." 

“Sen. Ayotte is still choosing unprecedented constitutional obstruction over the interests of Granite Staters, and voters will turn out in November to elect a senator who will actually do their job," said Lauren Passalacqua, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's national press secretary. 

While seven current Republican senators previously voted to confirm Garland to his current position, that could still be an uphill battle.
 
Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntTrump told of unsubstantiated Russian effort to compromise him Overnight Tech: Tech listens for clues at Sessions hearing | EU weighs expanding privacy rule | Senators blast Backpage execs A bitter end to the VA status quo MORE (R-Mo.) said he "would meet with anybody, but I think it would be a waste of his time." 
 
Pressed if that meant he would accept a meeting if the White House asked him to, Blunt said, "I [could] barely schedule a call with my son's math teacher yesterday, so probably no." 
 
According to Talking Points Memo, Sen. Jim InhofeJames InhofeSenate teeing up Mattis waiver Lawmakers play nice at Russia hacking hearing Senate chairman meets Trump’s EPA nominee MORE (R-Okla.) said that while he would meet with Garland, he still believes the seat should remain empty. 
 
Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranGOP senators voice misgivings about short-term spending bill Trump's wrong to pick Bannon or Sessions for anything Bottom Line MORE (R-Miss.), who chairs the Appropriations Committee, echoed those comments. While he told reporters he was open to considering the nominee, he added in a statement that Scalia's seat should remain vacant until next year.