Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., distanced himself Friday from comments he made earlier in the week that were supportive of moving forward with the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland.
“I am opposed to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and this administration’s attempt to put another liberal judge on the Supreme Court,” Moran said in a statement.
However, Moran still left the door open to holding hearings to question Garland on his judicial record, a step Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most other Republicans have been unwilling to entertain.
Hours after Scalia’s death last month, McConnell said Obama should leave it to the next president to make the appointment. The Kentucky Republican declined even to meet with Garland and rejected the notion that the Senate could vote on his nomination after the November election.
Moran suggested Friday that the confirmation process could bolster the case against him.
“I am certain a thorough investigation would expose Judge Garland’s record and judicial philosophy,” he said, “and disqualify him in the eyes of Kansans and Americans.”
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for the Judicial Crisis Network, said in a statement that the conservative group was putting the finishing touches on an ad campaign focused on Moran.
“President Obama is trying to deny voters in Kansas, and around the country, a voice in the direction of their Supreme Court and Senator Moran should not play into his hands,” she said, “he should stand with the Republican leadership and the American people.”
The firestorm of criticism against Moran started on Monday when he told a town hall in western Kansas that he considered it part of the Senate’s job to have a hearing on Garland.
“I can’t imagine the president has or will nominate somebody that meets my criteria, but I have my job to do,” Moran said, according to the Garden City Telegram. “I think the process ought to go forward.”
Garland, the chief judge on the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, has been praised by Republicans and Democrats for his judicial temperament. He’s widely regarded as a moderate.
Not all Republican senators agreed to stonewall Garland’s nomination, including those in states Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and Illinois’ Mark Kirk have agreed to meet with Garland. Both are among the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate.
On Friday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report downgraded Toomey’s re-election chances, as well as Rob Portman’s in Ohio, from “lean Republican” to “toss-up.”
Cook still rates Moran’s Kansas Senate seat as “solid Republican.” However, Democrats only need to pick up five seats to regain a Senate majority. Now, Cook rates six races as toss-ups: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., had met with Garland. Toomey had agreed to meet with him.