Vulnerable senator breaks with GOP over court nominee

Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkSenate panel approves 0M for international climate fund Senator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack Overnight Healthcare: Blame game over Zika funding MORE (R-Ill.) on Wednesday broke with his party and said he'll consider President Obama's Supreme Court nominee.

"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," Kirk said in a statement.

His remarks come after Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Kirk, who easily won the GOP nomination on Tuesday night, will face Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) in what is expected to be a close general election. He faces an uphill battle in his reelection bid in a state that went to Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 election.

He's not the only Republican senator who will consider meeting with Obama's nominee. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeGOP senator: Trump could lose Arizona McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote MORE (R-Ariz.) said he's open to "meet with anybody."

"I'd meet with anybody," Flake said on Wednesday. "I'm not going to speak for anybody else. I meet with people, that's what I do."

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who also faces a tough reelection bid, said he’d consider Garland if he’s nominated by the president elected in the fall.

“Should Merrick Garland be nominated again by the next president, I would be happy to carefully consider his nomination,” Toomey tweeted, “as I have done with dozens of judges submitted by President Obama. #SCOTUS.”

But other vulnerable GOP incumbents are sticking with the party line, saying they want to wait to fill the Supreme Court seat until after the presidential election.

Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteClean energy group backs two GOP incumbents Senator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack GOP Senate super-PAC reserves M in airtime MORE (R-N.H.), who is seeking reelection and will likely face off against Democratic New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, maintained that the "Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process" until after November.

"In the midst of a presidential election and a consequential debate about the future of our country, I believe the American people deserve to have a voice in the direction of the court," Ayotte said in a statement. "I continue to believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the people have spoken by electing a new president.”

Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanClean energy group backs two GOP incumbents Overnight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Overnight Energy: Volkswagen reaches .7B settlement over emissions MORE (R-Ohio) echoed a similar sentiment.

“As I have said previously, I believe it is better for the country to allow the American people to have a voice in this debate," Portman said. "I believe the best thing for the country is to trust the American people and allow them to weigh in on this issue. This is the same position that Vice President Biden and Senators Harry ReidHarry ReidDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill MORE and Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerFormer Gillibrand aide wins NY House primary Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump MORE have outlined in the past."

Portman, who handily won his own state's GOP nomination on Tuesday, will go on to face former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in what is considered to be one of the most competitive and expensive races this cycle.