WASHINGTON - In a shift, Sen. Pat Toomey said Wednesday that he would meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, but stuck to his position that the high court vacancy should not be filled until after November's election.
Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican facing an onslaught of pressure over the nomination at the same time he seeks reelection, said in a statement he would take the meeting "out of courtesy and respect" for President Obama and Garland.
But, he added, the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia's death "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."
No date has been set for the meeting. The Senate returns to session in early April.
Before Garland's nomination, Toomey had suggested it wouldn't be useful for him to meet any nominee because his concern was less over the individual chosen than the potential for a drastic shift in the court's makeup if a conservative giant like Scalia was replaced by someone closer to the other end of the political spectrum.
The senator's announcement came amid a week of protests and rallies by Democrats and liberal groups outside his Pennsylvania offices, where demonstrators berated Toomey, calling on him to "do your job."
It also came a day after his Democratic colleague from Pennsylvania, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., met with Garland in his Capitol Hill office under a media spotlight. "It's our obligation to cast a vote," Casey told reporters after that meeting.
Democrats dismissed Toomey's decision to meet with Garland as "political spin" from someone trying to help his reelection chances.
"Sen. Toomey is still choosing unprecedented constitutional obstruction," said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for Democrats' national Senate campaign arm. In November, she said, voters will "elect a senator who will actually do their job."
The Senate race in Pennsylvania is projected to be among the nation's hardest fought, one that could determine if Republicans retain or lose control of the chamber.