Mark Kirk becomes first Senate Republican to meet with Garland

Illinois Senator Mark Kirk on Tuesday became the first Republican senator to meet with Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

Usually a routine courtesy, the decision by Kirk to meet with Garland put him in the spotlight as GOP leaders in the Senate have argued that no hearings or votes on the nominee should take place until a new president is elected.

READ MORE: Senate Republicans repeat: No SCOTUS confirmation this year

Only a few Republicans have said they’d be open to meeting with Garland, the chief justice on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I think we should do our job,” Kirk told reporters, echoing Senate Democrats who have urged Republicans to consider Garland’s nomination. “We need open-minded, rational responsible people to keep an open mind to make sure the process works. I think when you say we aren’t gonna meet with him, it’s too close-minded.”

One important factor in Kirk’s decision to break publicly with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the fact that he’s up for reelection in a competitive race against Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

Democrats have hammered Republicans on the campaign trail this year for refusing to consider Garland’s nomination.

Duckworth put out a statement slamming Kirk just minutes after he spoke with reporters ahead of his meeting with Garland on Capitol Hill.

“Instead of going through the motions, Senator Kirk should show leadership by putting pressure on McConnell and urge him to give an eminently qualified Illinois native a fair hearing followed by an up-or-down vote,” Matt McGrath, Duckworth’s deputy campaign manager, said in a statement.

“If he doesn’t, Illinois families have every right to question Kirk’s sincerity and whether this is more election-year posturing from a vulnerable candidate,” McGrath added.

When asked what he wants McConnell to do, Kirk said only that senators should have long discussions with Garland about the issues facing the country.

Kirk told Chicago radio host “Big” John Howell earlier this month that the Senate should “man up and cast a vote.”

McConnell has said repeatedly that a new Supreme Court justice should not be confirmed during an election year and that the outcome of the November election should determine who is nominated. Senate Democrats have mounted a campaign to pressure McConnell and Senate Republicans to reverse their position.