WASHINGTON – In a shift, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey said Wednesday he will meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, but still insisted that the high court vacancy should not be filled until after November's election.
"President Obama's team has asked if I would meet with Judge Merrick Garland, and I have agreed to do so out of courtesy and respect for both the president and the judge," Toomey, a Republican, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "The vacancy left by Justice (Antonin) Scalia's passing will not be filled until after the American people weigh in and select a new president, and I believe that is the best approach for deciding whether to alter the balance of the Supreme Court. I plan on making that clear to Judge Garland when I meet with him."
Toomey had previously suggested that a meeting would not be helpful because his concern is with the court's make up, not the individual nominated.
His announcement comes amid a week of protests and rallies that Democrats and liberal groups have staged or planned outside his Pennsylvania offices and public events, with demonstrators urging Toomey to "do your job."
It also comes a day after his Democratic colleague, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, met with Garland in his Capitol Hill office before an array of flashing cameras.
"It's our obligation to cast a vote," when the president nominates someone to the high court, Casey told reporters after the meeting Tuesday. He said he had not come to a firm decision on if he would support Garland, but called the chief of the Washington, D.C. court of appeals "a great candidate no matter who the president is."
Toomey is one of several swing-state Republicans who have faced mounting pressure from Democrats to meet with Garland and call for a vote this year. Public opinion polls show that majorities of the public believe the GOP-controlled Senate should give the nominee fair consideration.
Pennsylvania Democrats aiming to unseat Toomey this fall scoffed at his decision.
"Relenting on meeting with Judge Garland proves Toomey knows his position threatens his re-election, but it doesn't change the bottom line that from now until November Toomey will not do his job," said Preston Maddock a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic party.
Some of Toomey's critics on the left have argued that voters might accept the idea that a senator might vote against a nominee, but would reject the idea of refusing to even meet the court pick.
Toomey, however, has joined Republican leaders in saying hearings and votes should wait until after the presidential election.
The Pennsylvania Senate race is projected as one of the toughest in the country.