Mark Kirk Breaks with McConnell, Citing Duty to ‘Constitution’ over ‘Party’

by Elaina Plott

After a week of silence on whether Republicans should refuse to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Senator Mark Kirk is speaking out. 

In a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed posted moments ago, Kirk argues that, in the spirit of honoring the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Republicans should place the Constitution before their party. 

“I recognize the right of the President, be it Republican or Democrat, to place before the Senate a nominee for the Supreme Court and I fully expect and look forward to President Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider,” he writes.

“I also recognize my duty as a Senator to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing along with a complete and transparent release of all requested information. The Senate’s role in providing advice and consent is as important and significant as the President’s role in proposing a nominee.”

By the same token, he urges the president to put forth a nominee who rejects partisanship and extremism. 

“My sincerest hope is that President Obama nominates someone who captures the sentiment he spoke about before the Illinois General Assembly this month — a nominee who can bridge differences, a nominee that finds common ground and a nominee that does not speak or act in the extreme.”

Kirk’s words mark one of the more significant breaks from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s swift call to block consideration for the president’s nominee; though a handful of senators up for reelection, such as Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, have shied away from McConnell’s strategy, his conference is by and large standing behind him. But for Kirk, arguably the most vulnerable Republican in the 2016 Senate field, the stakes are high, and his team spent the last several days mulling his words carefully. In the interim, Illinois representative Tammy Duckworth, the Democrat who is likely to be Kirk’s opponent in November, blasted the senator’s silence, calling on Kirk to “immediately level with the people of Illinois, and let us know whether he supports the Constitution, or if he’ll be a rubber stamp for Mitch McConnell’s obstructionist and unconstitutional gambit.”

Kirk has spent his career crafting a moderate political profile in the upper chamber, and has angered Republicans for regularly crossing the aisle, such as when he voted to maintain funding for so-called sanctuary cities. A more tempered stance on the current SCOTUS fight, however, shields him from Duckworth’s criticisms, and could help him preserve his appeal to independents — who, in the battleground state of Illinois, will be key come November. 

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