WASHINGTON - Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) met with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland for an hour Tuesday, but afterward said he was more convinced that the next president - not President Obama - should fill the high court vacancy.
Toomey called Garland "impressive" and "likable," but stuck to his argument that Obama should not be able to change the balance of the Supreme Court "for perhaps a generation" when a new president will be chosen in November.
And Toomey questioned whether Garland would sufficiently rein in what he sees as executive overreach, particularly when it comes to environmental regulations that he said were hampering agriculture, the coal and natural gas industries, and other businesses in Pennsylvania.
"He did not assuage my concerns. . . . I'm not convinced that he would be willing to play the role of a sufficiently aggressive check," Toomey said after sitting with the judge in the senator's office.
Citing the potential shift in the court as Obama tries to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Toomey said: "This is a decision that should be made with the maximum input of the American people, and that's achieved by allowing the next president to make this decision."
The meeting came as Toomey faces a barrage of pressure from Democratic and liberal groups.
Democrats have made him one of their top targets as they try to persuade Republicans to relent on allowing a confirmation vote on Garland, arguing that it is their job to consider the president's choice. If Toomey refuses, Democrats plan to hammer him as an obstructionist as he seeks reelection this fall.
Conservatives, however, have urged Republicans to stand firm, and defying them could provoke a backlash on the right.
Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also met with Garland on Tuesday and afterward said he too remained opposed to advancing the nomination.
Toomey's meeting, his first with a Supreme Court nominee, came without the photo opportunity that typically precedes such gatherings.
"Don't be fooled by the dog and pony show Sen. Pat Toomey is holding today - he is still choosing unprecedented constitutional obstruction over doing his job," said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democrats' Senate campaign arm. "Pennsylvanians want Toomey to do his job, and in November, voters will turn out to elect a senator who actually will."
Public polls show that majorities of voters, including many Republicans, believe the Senate should give Garland fair consideration to fill the vacancy.
Sen. Cory A. Booker (D., N.J.) met with Garland immediately before Toomey did. The senator called it a "meaningful" discussion but said his concerns - and those of other lawmakers - should be addressed in open hearings, not private meetings.
"He deserves a hearing," Booker said, pointing to Republican leaders' refusal to allow even a hearing on Garland's nomination. "To me, this is a dramatic offense."