- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - While Senate Republicans appear to be uniting behind a call to block a Supreme Court nomination, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine cautioned that it’s premature to discuss the politics behind filling the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The statement by Collins on Monday followed a call by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay the nomination to allow President Barack Obama’s successor to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. But Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley suggested he might be open to considering Obama’s yet-to-be named nominee, an indication his party may be sensitive to Democrats’ accusations of obstructionism.

Collins, a Republican, hasn’t said whether she supports the GOP delaying tactics. She said it’s too early to speculate “given that Justice Scalia died so recently and unexpectedly.”

There was no such ambiguity from Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He said the president was elected to serve four years, not “three years and one month.”

“To delay the consideration of a nomination for almost a full year would be nothing more than the cynical politics that people in Maine and across the country are tired of,” King said in a statement on Tuesday. “I was sent here to do a job, and if the president nominates someone, then I hope I’ll have the opportunity to give them the proper merit-based consideration that is due to such a significant position.”

The death of Scalia creates an opportunity for Obama to shape the Supreme Court and to create a liberal majority on the court. Obama has announced his intention to move forward with a nomination, but it faces a hurdle in the Republican-controlled Senate.

It would take 60 votes to overcome a filibuster threatened by Sen. Ted Cruz, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, and Obama’s allies would need 14 Republicans to break ranks.

Of sitting senators, the only Republicans to support both of Obama’s previous Supreme Court nominations are Collins and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Collins has a reputation as a moderate who’s unafraid of breaking ranks with her party.

She was part of the so-called “Gang of 14” that brokered a compromise to avert filibusters of judicial nominations by then-President George W. Bush.

Under the 2005 deal, the GOP abandoned its attempt to change Senate rules for judicial nominees and Democrats agreed to limit filibusters except in “extraordinary circumstances.”

Collins, who had no further comment on Tuesday, said she takes the Senate’s role seriously when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, which are lifetime appointments.

“Our role in the Senate is to evaluate the nominee’s temperament, intellect, experience, integrity, and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law,” she said.

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