Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speculated Tuesday that Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley might agree to hold a hearing on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee after meeting with Judge Merrick Garland.
"It's my understanding that Senator Grassley has agreed to meet with Judge Garland, so let's see if after that meeting Senator Grassley still holds to the position that there should not be hearings," Collins said Tuesday after her own meeting with Garland.
Collins has been one of the most outspoken Republican critics of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision to allow the next president to nominate a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans are unlikely to relent, given how that would disappoint the conservative base, but Senate Democrats hope to use the Supreme Court fight as a way to tie their opponents to GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
"I am not optimistic that I will be changing minds on this issue, but I think if more of my colleagues sit down with Judge Garland that they are going to be impressed with him," Collins said.
Republican senators are under immense political pressure not to meet with Garland, and to stick with the conference position that President Obama should not be allowed to create a liberal majority on the court in an election year. Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, for instance, expressed support for holding a hearing on Garland's nomination, but reversed course as conservative activists protested that position.
"Liberal groups lost this fight 24 years ago the moment Joe Biden walked onto the Senate floor and proclaimed there would be no hearings or votes for a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of a presidential election," Carrie Severino, a former Supreme Court clerk who is now chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, said last week. "They lost it when Chuck Schumer echoed those sentiments 8 years ago. They lost this fight a couple of weeks ago when even the New York Times said Merrick Garland would create the most liberal Supreme Court in over 50 years."
In the meantime, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is using the issue in an attempt to build momentum for a Democratic challenger to Grassley this year. He predicts that Republicans will fold if Clinton wins the White House.
"I think it's foolish that they want to wait till the lame duck, but after Clinton's elected, I think they're going to be faced with a reality that maybe we should take this more moderate judge than somebody that Hillary Clinton would give us," Reid said in Nevada last week.