WASHINGTON (CN) - The second Senate Republican to sit down with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland appeared committed after the meeting Tuesday to ensuring that President Barack Obama's choice receives a fair hearing.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, sat down with Garland for more than an hour this morning, discussing topics like the Second Amendment, executive overreach and the role and perceptions of the court.
"The meeting left me more convinced than ever that the process should proceed," Collins said. "The next step, in my view, should be public hearings before the Judiciary Committee so that the issues that we explored in my office can be publicly aired and so that senators can have a better opportunity to flesh out all of the issues that we discussed."
Republicans have staunchly opposed Obama appointing a nominee since the death in February of Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacancy on the nine-justice Supreme Court. With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leading the charge, Republican leadership in the Senate vowed shortly after Scalia's death not to hold hearings on any nominee the president might tap.
But the Republican blockade has softened in recent weeks as some in the party have said publically they would meet with Garland.
Sen. Mark Kirk, a vulnerable Republican from Illinois, became the first Republican last week to sit down with the current chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Kirk, like Collins, has publically called for others in the party to meet with the nominee.
After her meeting with the judge, Collins called Garland "extraordinarily bright," and encouraged her colleagues to take their own meetings with the judge.
"I would encourage all of my colleagues to sit down with Judge Garland," Collins said. "I believe that that's how the process should work and works best when we have these one-on-one meetings followed by public hearings."
The senator said it would be "ironic" if a Democrat won the presidency and appointed a more liberal choice than Garland to the vacant seat on the nation's highest court.
Still, Collins would not commit to voting for Garland until after the Senate Judiciary Committee holds public hearings to allow her colleagues to fully vet the nominee.
"We covered a lot of ground in our hour-long meeting, but obviously public hearings with many senators posing questions allows for far more in-depth review of the qualifications, decisions, philosophy of the nominee," Collins said.
Garland's meeting with Collins comes on the heels of a Monday evening talk the judge had with Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been at the heart of the fight over the nominee. Grassley reportedly invited Garland to a breakfast in the future where he will explain why he opposes a hearing.
Collins suggested Tuesday the meeting might soften Grassley's firm commitment against holding hearings on Garland's nomination.
"Let's see if after that meeting Senator Grassley still holds to the position that there should not be hearings," Collins said.
Despite her calls for her colleagues to meet with Garland, Collins acknowledged her views on holding hearings for a nominee are well known within the Republican caucus and that her calls for action might be falling on deaf ears.
"I am not optimistic that I will be changing minds on this issue, but I think if more of my colleagues sit down with Judge Garland that they are going to be impressed with him," Collins said.
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