TOPEKA — A town hall meeting in southwest Kansas, attended by just 10 people, became national news this week when U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said Senate Republicans should hold hearings on a U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
“I would rather have you (constituents) complaining to me that I voted wrong on nominating somebody than saying I’m not doing my job,” Moran told a crowd in Cimarron on Monday, according to the Garden City Telegram.
“I can’t imagine the president has or will nominate somebody that meets my criteria, but I have my job to do,” he added. “I think the process ought to go forward.”
Those statements put Moran at odds with the vast majority of Republicans in the U.S. Senate who believe it is imprudent and undemocratic to consider a Supreme Court justice in an election year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, said the Senate won’t vote on the president’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
As the senator’s comments spread to national news outlets Thursday, a flood of praise and condemnation for Moran followed.
The Democratic National Committee, rarely an ally of the Republican senator, featured his comments to the Cimarron crowd on social media accounts and news releases.
“Moran spoke out against Senator McConnell and the Republican leadership this week, saying that he doesn’t want to be accused of not doing this job,” the DNC said.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal group, said Moran caved to Obama, played into the president’s hands and isn’t serving the people of Kansas.
“We are in the process of putting the finishing touches on a robust, multi-faceted TV, digital and grassroots campaign designed to remind Sen. Moran that he represents the people of Kansas and neither President Obama nor the Democratic Party,” said Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel.
The American Constitution Society, a liberal legal group, lauded Moran’s comments.
“It is up to the Senate to fulfill its duty and give Judge Garland a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote,” said Caroline Fredrickson, its president. “We call on the Republican leaders in the Senate to follow Sen. Moran’s lead.”
Adam Brandon, CEO of the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, said Moran has sold out his principles for political convenience.
The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund said its grassroots activists in Kansas are “furious” Moran is willing to hold hearings on Garland’s nomination. The group claimed it is considering urging 2014 Senate candidate Milton Wolf to challenge Moran in the August primary.
Backed by tea party groups, Wolf challenged U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts two years ago, losing by a closer-than-anticipated margin. He is a frequent critic of Moran, calling him a “coward” and “weak, posturing squish” on social media Thursday.
When asked Friday if he is considering a challenge to Moran, Wolf declined to answer, pivoting instead to criticisms of the freshman senator.
“Jerry Moran is living proof that Washington career politicians lie to voters and are bad at their jobs,” Wolf said, adding Moran has “folded like a cheap lawn chair” rather than stand up to Obama.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Moran said he remains opposed to Garland but felt obligated to consider his record.
“I am opposed to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and this administration’s attempt to put another liberal judge on the Supreme Court. As I have said since the vacancy was created, I believe I have a duty to ask tough questions and demand answers. I am certain a thorough investigation would expose Judge Garland’s record and judicial philosophy, and disqualify him in the eyes of Kansans and Americans.”
Moran is running unopposed for the Republican primary and has one Democratic challenger in November’s general election, Lawrence lawyer Patrick Wiesner. The filing deadline for Wolf or other Republicans seeking to challenge Moran is June 1.
His openness to Garland’s nomination could also put Moran at odds with anti-abortion groups, traditionally allies of the senator, who fear an Obama nominee to the court will be detrimental to their cause.
“Sen. Moran is a steadfast defender of the unborn, which is why he must understand the stakes in this fight,” said Billy Valentine, director of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement urging Moran to reconsider. “President Obama would not nominate someone who wasn’t lockstep with his support for abortion on-demand, up until the moment of birth, paid for by the taxpayer.”
Though his comments in Cimarron mark Moran’s staunchest statements for consideration of Garland, they aren’t a great departure from his recent opinions on the matter.
On Feb. 15, just two days after Justice Antonin Scalia died, Moran told The Topeka Capital-Journal that the Senate “has a constitutional responsibility in the process of determining Supreme Court justices.”
During a March 18 event in Topeka, Moran said considering a Supreme Court nominee “is something I am willing to do and, in fact, have a responsibility to do.”
Moran is just the third Republican in the Senate to show a willingness to consider Garland’s nomination. The other two are moderate Republican Sens. Mark Kirk, of Illinois, and Susan Collins, of Maine.
Aside from Moran, the other five members of the Kansas congressional delegation oppose hearings for Garland. On Twitter Friday, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo urged Moran to reconsider.
“Constitution does not require hearing on (Supreme Court) nominee and conservative principles demand no hearing be held,” Pompeo wrote.