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Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch faces heat from both sides on whether to hold confirmation hearings and a vote on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, though the Utah Republican remains steadfast in his assertion that the next president should make the pick for the high court vacancy.
Bridge Project, the nonprofit advocacy arm of the progressive group American Bridge, unveiled online ads Monday that will run in Utah, showcasing Hatch's previous opposition to obstructing judicial nominees and praising Garland as an ideal candidate.
"Orrin Hatch used to be about a fair nomination process," a voice begins in the 60-second spot, transitioning to Hatch on the Senate floor, saying, "We've got to get rid of politics with regard to judges and start doing what's right."
Hatch and fellow Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have said they will not hold confirmation hearings for Garland, whom Obama named to fill the seat of the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Hatch argues that the "toxic" political season would tarnish any hearings and the vacancy should be held for the next president.
On the no-hearing side of the argument, the tea-party umbrella group FreedomWorks has run online ads urging Hatch to stay firm and not "cave" on the issue. A spokesman says the group which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing Hatch in his last election suspects he could be vulnerable to pressure on the Garland nomination.
The group has spent about $1,500 on spots tied to Hatch, though a spokesman says it's an open ad buy and more could be coming.
"We view Senator Hatch as being someone who may be willing to surrender to President Obama on this vacancy," says Jason Pye, communications director for FreedomWorks. "We want to make sure that he stands with conservative grass-roots activists, who, through FreedomWorks, have sent 1.1 million messages to Senate Republicans, urging them to stand strong and not hold hearings or votes on any nominee."
Bridge Project declined to say how much the progressive group is spending on the digital ads, but American Bridge Vice President Eddie Vale says he hopes the spots against Hatch, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, will "jar their apparently clouded memories."
"Sens. McConnell, Grassley, and Hatch have stained their respective legacies by embracing petty partisan politics on the Supreme Court vacancy," Vale said in a statement. "We'd hoped when they were face to face with their constituents back home, it would trigger a moment of clarity and cause them to realize that voters just want them to do their jobs, but they sadly appear as committed as ever to partisan posturing."
A few GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mark Kirk of Illinois, have signaled their willingness to hold hearings, though Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah say the Senate shouldn't do so.