A conservative Republican senator from one of the reddest states in the country just broke with his party’s extraordinary resistance to Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland.
Just hours after news of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death became public, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated that he would refuse to confirm anyone nominated by President Obama. He later suggested that he may try to hold the seat open even after the next president is elected. Since then, Senate Republican leadership says that they won’t give Garland a confirmation hearing. Many senators refuse to even meet with the longtime judge.
To date, the White House and its allies have concentrated much of their efforts seeking to break this wall of resistance on relatively moderate Republicans, such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), or on senators in difficult reelection fights, such as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). Thus far, they’ve succeeded in getting a handful of senators to either agree to meet with Garland or to call for a hearing.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) is neither a moderate nor an especially endangered senator, however. Though he’s up for reelection this November, blood red Kansas is widely viewed as safe territory for Republicans this election cycle.
Nevertheless, Moran’s comments at a town hall meeting on Monday suggests that he is not happy with McConnell’s refusal to follow the ordinary process regarding Garland’s nomination. “I would rather have you complaining to me that I voted wrong on nominating somebody than saying I’m not doing my job,” Moran told a room full of constituents.
Though he added that “I can’t imagine the president has or will nominate somebody that meets my criteria,” Moran concluded that “I have my job to do. I think the process ought to go forward.”
According to the Garden City Telegram, Moran also said that Republican senators should meet with Garland and give him a hearing.
That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of Judge Garland, but Moran’s comments suggest that McConnell’s absolutist tactics may create problems even for Republican senators in very safe seats.
That didn't take long.
A tea party group has already threatened to back a primary challenger to Moran following the senator's statement that Garland should receive a hearing. Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund Chairman Jenny Beth Martin said in a statement on Friday that "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 unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) in 2014.