Maine’s two U.S. senators have diverging responses to the ongoing political controversy over whether President Barack Obama should be allowed to nominate a replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia’s unexpected death Saturday triggered a tsunami of political rhetoric from lawmakers in Washington and those stumping on the presidential campaign trail.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, sided with Obama, who has asserted it’s the president’s constitutional duty to appoint a replacement for Scalia.

Some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, have said the next president, who will be elected in November, should be the person to appoint Scalia’s replacement, and they have vowed to block any Obama nominee.

Citing the president’s constitutional obligation to nominate a replacement, King, in a prepared statement Tuesday, said: “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.

“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,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, cautioned it’s “… premature for Washington to be speculating so soon about a new Supreme Court nominee, given that Justice Scalia died so recently and unexpectedly.”

In a statement issued by her staff, she focused on the process: “More than any other appointment upon which the Senate is called to pass judgment, nominees to the Supreme Court warrant in-depth consideration given the importance of their constitutional role and their lifetime tenure.

“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.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, 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.

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. Obama’s allies would need 14 Republicans to break ranks.

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Of the 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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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