WASHINGTON -- Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), who's vying for a Senate seat in November, broke from his party's messaging on Monday night and said Republicans should act on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee this year.
"I do think he should have a hearing and I would like to see a vote," Jolly said in a debate with one of his Democratic opponents, Rep. Alan Grayson.
The Florida lawmaker also said if he were in the Senate now, he would meet with Obama's pick, Merrick Garland. "Of course," he said.
It might not sound like a bold statement, but Jolly's comments come as several GOP senators are refusing to even sit down with Obama's nominee. That's because Republican leaders have settled on a strategy of denying Garland any attention and punting the Supreme Court nomination until 2017, when Obama is gone. Their hope is that a Republican will be in the White House by then and will pick a nominee more to their liking.
But their hard-line stance -- one that breaks from Senate precedent on moving Supreme Court nominees -- puts the party's vulnerable senators in a tough spot. It's no coincidence that many of the Republicans who have met with Garland are also in tight re-election races. Some, like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), have seen their poll numbers go down over the Supreme Court blockade.
Garland, a relatively moderate nominee, would fill the vacancy on the court left by Antonin Scalia, who died in February.
To be sure, Jolly didn't say he'd vote for Garland. He said he'd vote against him, and cited concerns with his judicial record on the Second Amendment and labor unions. Nonetheless, he said the Senate's job is to give nominees hearings and votes, and they should be doing it with Garland's nomination.
"That's actually the proper exercise of the Senate's Article I authority," he said.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not immediately return a request for comment.