How GOP Senators Are Finessing McConnell’s Hard Line On SCOTUS Nom

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bold statement that President Barack Obama should not even nominate a replacement to the Supreme Court sent a clear message to the GOP rank and file: We are not going to be seriously considering an Obama nominee.

However, some Republicans are hinting they may be mildly more willing to entertain the idea. Or at least are seeking to put a public gloss on their opposition that is less obviously obstructionist than McConnell’s was.

So far, no one has broken with McConnell in a substantial way, but some of the GOP statements in the wake of Scalia’s death have been more politic, careful and cautious than the leader’s initial proclamation.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), warned that saying ‘no’ to a nominee “sight unseen” could give the impression that the Republicans were being “obstructionists,” and leave a bad taste in voters’ mouths just months ahead of a presidential election. Still, Tillis set a nearly impossible standard for who would be worthy of Republican consideration, saying it would be unwise for the GOP to ignore a candidate that had “an identical resume and capabilities of Justice Scalia.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) held back from unleashing judgment on an unnamed potential Obama nominee. Collins told Politico in an emailed statement that “more than any other appointment upon which the Senate is called to pass judgment, nominees to the Supreme Court warrant in-depth consideration given the importance of their constitutional role and their lifetime tenure. Our role in the Senate is to evaluate the nominee’s temperament, intellect, experience, integrity and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) — who are both up for reelection this year — said that the president should not appoint anyone and instead let the next president and Senate handle the nomination process.

Yet others who are facing tumultuous re-election campaigns back home have also tried to thread the needle a bit. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) initially gave a full-throated endorsement of McConnell’s comment, saying, “I strongly agree that the American people should decide the future direction of the Supreme Court by their votes for president and the majority party in the U.S. Senate,” according to a statement. Yet, Wednesday morning news reports surfaced that Johnson said on The Jerry Bader Show” that he’d be willing to vote on a nominee.

“I’ve never said that I wouldn’t vote, or that we shouldn’t vote,” Johnson said. “I have no idea how the process plays out, I’m not in control of it. I’m not the majority leader, I’m not chairman of the Judiciary. By the time I would actually take the vote, if it comes to that, I’ll take a vote.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley also said he would not rule out holding hearings for an Obama nominee.

McConnell may have drawn the line in the sand, but here are a handful of Republicans who are willing to go right up to its edge.

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