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Judge Merrick Garland is back on Capitol Hill this week meeting with nearly a dozen senators as he works to propel his nomination to the Supreme Court forward despite Republican leadership's vow not to consider a nominee until after the election.
GOP resistance against meeting with him has hardened even as several Republican lawmakers have vowed to hear him out.
"It's safe to say there will not be hearings or votes," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, reiterated as senators returned from a two-week break Tuesday.
"Well the situation when we broke for the recess two weeks ago was that there were 52 Republican Senators who didn't think we needed either hearings or a vote in committee," McConnell told reporters. "And today, two weeks later we have 52 Republicans who think we don't need either a hearing or a vote in committee."
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But two Republican Senators — Susan Collins of Maine and John Boozman of Arkansas — went ahead anyways and met with the judge in their offices Tuesday.
"The meeting left me more convinced than ever that the process should proceed," Collins told reporters after the meeting, noting that the next step should be public hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
While Collins would not let on if she would vote to confirm Garland, she said Garland was "extremely straight forward" and that he gave "thorough impressive responses to all of my questions" during their more than hour-long meeting.
Boozman, however, only took the meeting out of courtesy and wrote firmly in a statement after their brief 20 minute encounter: "I will not advocate for hearings or a vote, nor will I support filling the vacancy with President Obama's pick after the election."
In total just 14 Senate Republicans have agreed to meet with Garland despite Collins' plea for her colleagues to sit down with the judge. The White House announced late Tuesday four of those Republicans will meet with Garland next week including two senators in tough re-election bids — Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
Only Collins and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois — who is also in a tough re-election bid and met with Garland last week — openly support full consideration of the judge.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, — who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that would take up the nomination — announced this week he would host the judge for breakfast next Tuesday. The meeting, an aide says, is only to "discuss the nomination and why the Senate will not consider a nominee until the next President takes office."
Grassley has maintained ever since Justice Antonin Scalia died in February that it was unnecessary to hold hearings until after the American people weigh in this November on who will be president. He has been facing immense pressure and strong rhetoric from Democrats including while he was back in Iowa during the recess to change his stance.
“The tone of these attacks against senator Grassley have been vicious and they’ve been very personal,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said on the Senate floor Wednesday defending the chairman. “I believe democrats have embarrassed themselves and they have really done a disservice to their constituents and to the United States Senate.”
Despite the mounting pressure to hold hearings, Grassley is standing firm but Collins said to hold judgment until the two meet face-to-face.
"Let's see if after that meeting Senator Grassley still holds to the position that there should not be hearings," she said.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are continuing to hammer Republicans for their inaction on President Obama's nominee and continue to call on senators to "do your job."
Nine Senate Democrats will meet with Garland this week.
Democratic leadership in the Senate is contemplating trying to force some type of vote on the nomination through procedural measures - including using a discharge resolution — since Republicans do not seem to be budging.
Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, hinted Wednesday that Democrats have started “actively considering” ideas but nothing definitive just yet but noted “during this work period there will be a decisions made, that’s my sense.”
“We have talked about other options and there are still very many that are possible, short of shutting down the Senate and shutting down the processes on Capitol Hill,” Durbin said.