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Is Merrick Garland making headway with the GOP?

Despite Congressional Republicans’ pledge not to hold any confirmation hearings, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland made the rounds on Capitol Hill again Tuesday, meeting with GOP Senators John Boozman of Arkansas and Susan Collins of Maine. Gwen Ifill talks to Sen. Collins for more on the day’s events and what they could mean for the battle over Antonin Scalia’s empty seat.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland made the rounds on Capitol Hill again today.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains determined not to hold confirmation hearings. Some Senate Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, have announced a willingness to meet the nominee, although he and the Senate majority leader say they will not schedule hearings or a vote.

    Today, Judge Garland did meet two Republicans, Senator John Boozman of Arkansas and Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

    She joins us now from Capitol Hill.

    Senator Collins, tell us about your meeting with the judge.

    SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), Maine: It was an excellent meeting. We talked for over an hour about a range of issues that included his judicial philosophy, Second Amendment cases, the separation of powers, the executive overreach. We were able to touch on a great many issues.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Did you conclude that he is qualified for at least a hearing, if not confirmation?

  • SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

    I certainly believe that he is qualified for a hearing.

    He has been a distinguished jurist for 13 years on the D.C. Circuit Court, and I found his answers to demonstrate that he's thought deeply about the issues, that he's highly intelligent, and that he's a careful, meticulous judge.

    Having said that, I would, of course, not make a final decision on his nomination until there were public hearings, because it's that kind of in-depth vetting that gives you the information that you need.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    As you know, your colleague Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois last week also met with Judge Garland and came away and said that he felt that his colleagues who wouldn't do that are closed-minded.

    Do you agree with him?

  • SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

    No, I wouldn't say that, although I would hope that more and more senators would find time in their schedules to sit down with Judge Garland. I believe that they would benefit from hearing from him firsthand. And I know that I did.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You have said in other interviews that you are perplexed that Senator McConnell, that Majority Leader McConnell is drawing such a firm line on this. Tell me what you mean by that.

  • SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

    Well, Gwen, this is a very unpredictable political year.

    And we have no idea who the next president is going to be. But if the next president is a Democrat, it's certainly conceivable that she or he might choose a nominee who is far to Judge Garland's left.

    If the next president is Donald Trump, he's a very unpredictable person. Who knows who his nominee would be? In this case, we have a nominee with 19 years of experience. And I believe that we should take the process a step at a time.

    And doing the meeting today was the first step, and I think the next step should be hearings.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Did the White House reach out to you directly to ask you to meet with him?

  • SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And what did you say to them?

  • SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

    I said I would be happy to meet with them.

    I would note that that is standard procedure with every Supreme Court nominee on whom I have ever voted, regardless of what administration it was. The White House asks you to sit down with the nominee. And I have always found that those one-on-one conversations give me a great insight into the nominee's views, integrity, intellect, fidelity to the Constitution, and respect for the rule of law.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In your opinion, Senator Collins, is the opposition to Judge Garland rooted in principle, in policy, or in politics?

  • SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

    I believe that the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, sincerely believes that the next president should choose the next justice on the Supreme Court.

    I don't happen to agree with him. As I look at the Constitution, the president has the right, indeed the obligation, to appoint judicial nominees, to nominate people for the courts, including the highest court in the land.

    And, after all, President Obama is our president right now, and will be until January of next year. So, we just have an honest disagreement about this issue. But I certainly respect and understand the contrary point of view.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Part of what Senator McConnell, the point he has made is, why drag Judge Garland through what he called an unnecessary political routine if he's not going to be considered or confirmed?

  • SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

    Well, I don't think Judge Garland views it that way, or he wouldn't have agreed to be nominated for this important post.

    And he did agree to be nominated. He is making the rounds on Capitol Hill. And one encouraging sign to me is before the congressional recent recess, there were only two of us on the Republican side that were willing to sit down with Judge Garland one-on-one to meet with him, and now there are more than a dozen Republican senators.

    I believe that's a positive step forward, and it is the way the normal process would work. I would also note that it is not unusual for Supreme Court nominees to be contentious. There have been Democrats who have blocked Republican nominees, including when President Obama participated in a filibuster to try to block Justice Alito from being named to the court.

    So, there have been political shenanigans on both sides of the aisle when it comes to the Supreme Court. I think it would be better if we depoliticized the process.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Shenanigans is such a good word.

    Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, thank you for joining us.

  • SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

    Thank you.

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