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In Court fight, GOP senators buckle under pressure from the right

One GOP senator clearly wanted to be responsible and do the right thing. His party and right-wing activist groups wouldn't let him.
The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, March 16, 2016. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters)
The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, March 16, 2016.
Given the scope of the Senate Republicans' Supreme Court blockade -- a partisan gambit with no precedent in American history -- Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) adopted a surprisingly reasonable posture last week. Too bad it didn't last.
The far-right Kansan announced last week that he would oppose Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the high court, but he nevertheless believed his colleagues should hold a confirmation hearing. According to local reports, Moran, sounding very much like an elected member of the world's most deliberative body, told a Kansas audience, "I think we have the responsibility to have a hearing, to have the conversation and to make a determination on the merit." He added, "I have my job to do."
Under pressure from right-wing activist groups, however, Moran decided he no longer cares about those responsibilities or the importance of doing his job. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the Republican senator made an amazing switch late on Friday afternoon.

After eliciting a rash of conservative criticism for wanting to hold hearings on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran has reversed course. In a statement sent to several news organizations Friday, an aide for the freshman Republican senator said Moran spoke to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and now sees no need for Senate hearings.

According to the senator's aide, Moran has now "examined Judge Garland's record," and he no longer needs a hearing to conclude that the respected jurist is "unacceptable."
In a way, it's tempting to feel sorry for Moran. The Kansas lawmaker obviously wanted to do the right thing, and at least at first, he actually took a relatively responsible line. Moran reversed course, not because he suddenly discovered the error of his ways, but because his party and right-wing groups, in a rather pathetic display, told him what to say, think, and do.
Pitiful though this may be, however, Moran doesn't deserve a pass for doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. The senator won't admit it, but he accidentally told the truth last week about his responsibilities, only to allow himself to be pushed into a reversal a few days later. That Moran's office announced the change -- through an aide -- by way of a Friday night news dump only adds insult to injury.
The senator's cowardice is no doubt connected to the fact that Moran is up for re-election this year, and conservatives are threatening to run a primary challenger against him. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that the fear is apparently contagious: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), who's also up for re-election this year, has also flip-flopped. In February, the Alaska Republican said President Obama's nominee should receive a hearing, but she's since changed her mind.
With roughly a fourth of the Senate GOP conference willing to extend Garland the courtesy of a one-on-one meeting -- including a few who'd said they wouldn't -- some observers have been led to believe the Republicans' wall of opposition is weakening under pressure. The announcements from Moran and Murkowski, however, put the fight in a very different light.
As things stand, of the 54 Senate Republicans in the chamber, 52 have concluded that Garland cannot and will not have a confirmation hearing. Barring a dramatic change in the GOP's direction, the appeals court jurist -- touted by some Republicans as Obama's ideal choice -- will be the first Supreme Court nominee in the history of the United States to be denied a hearing and a vote, simply because of a partisan temper tantrum that no one has been able to defend in a coherent way.
As for Moran and Murkowski, they probably shouldn't be waiting by the phone for a call from the panel that gives out Profile in Courage awards.