Mark Kirk Splits From GOP Over SCOTUS Pick

By Reboot Illinois' Kevin Hoffman

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., on Monday broke ranks with Republican leaders by saying he recognizes President Barack Obama's right to nominate a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and that the GOP-controlled Senate should consider the nominee.

The naming of Scalia's successor became one of the most politically charged issues of the 2016 election almost immediately upon the justice's death on Feb. 13.

Kirk, who is up for reelection, announced his position in an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times more than a week after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the vacant seat should be filled by the next president.

From the Sun-Times:

"...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 Barack Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider.

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.

A partisan or extreme nominee would not be prudent nor would it provide a steady, scholarly hand to guide the constitutional ship of state."

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., one of the candidates vying for the incumbent's Senate seat, had urged Kirk to let his stance be known, saying last week in a statement: "Senator Mark Kirk must 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."

Former Chicago Urban League president Andrea Zopp, another Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful, went on the attack, calling on Kirk to back up his words and commit to vote in favor of any qualified nominee put forth by Obama.

"Unfortunately, Senator Kirk's statement is typical of the problem in Washington right now -- he, like Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, is skilled at giving us cheap political talk, but not specifics," Zopp said in a statement.

Kirk is considered one of the most endangered senators in the country as he not only faces a tough reelection bid, but holds one of five seats Democrats need to retake the Senate. And he already has split from Republicans and sided with Democrats by voting last year against a bill to repeal Obamacare because of a provision to defund Planned Parenthood. Kirk also voted in favor of gun control legislation and to preserve sanctuary cities, drawing the ire of conservative colleagues and constituents.

More from the Sun-Times' Washington, D.C., bureau chief Lynn Sweet:

Kirk is seen as one of the most vulnerable senators facing voters this November... That Kirk, who represents Obama's adopted home state, staked out this turf is not surprising. Kirk's prospects for a second term depend on votes from independents and cross-over Democrats.

Following Scalia's death, Kirk implicitly took a shot at McConnell when he declined to close ranks with him, saying in a statement: "The political debate erupting about prospective nominees to fill the vacancy is unseemly. Let us take the time to honor his life before the inevitable debate erupts."

Kirk's op-ed urging Obama to send the Senate a nominee was timed for after Scalia's funeral on Saturday, and before the Senate meets for the first time this week since the death of the conservative Supreme Court justice.

The junior senator wrote in the op-ed he hopes 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 who finds common ground and a nominee who does not speak or act in the extreme."

Kirk will face his conservative challenger, James Marter, in the primary election on March 15.