By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley opened the door to holding a hearing on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland if a majority of senators wish to do so after the Nov. 8 election, in comments posted online Tuesday.
Grassley, an Iowa Republican, vowed months ago that the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs would not act this year to consider Garland's nomination, saying the Republican-majority Senate should not act on a Court nominee until after the new president takes office early next year.
But in a town hall meeting Monday in Cherokee, Iowa, Grassley indicated he could be persuaded by a large number of senators to take action in a "lame duck" session between the Nov. 8 election and the inauguration of the new president in January.
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"If we have the election, and there was a majority of the Senate changed their mind about doing it in the lame duck, as opposed to January 20, I don't feel that I could stand in the way of that. But I don't think I can promote that idea," he said in a video of his remarks posted online by the American Bridge 21st Century website, which says it is committed to "holding Republicans accountable."
Grassley made a similar point at the Sioux City Iowa Rotary Club, Iowa's Globe Gazette reported.
Garland, a federal appeals court judge, was nominated by Obama, a Democrat, on March 16 to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Republicans insist that the next president should fill the vacancy, hoping a Republican will win the White House and choose a conservative rather than the centrist Garland. But such an outcome is not assured, with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton currently leading Republican candidate Donald Trump in public opinion polls.
A spokeswoman for Grassley, Beth Levine, denied he was shifting his position. She said that in Sioux City Grassley reiterated his stance "that a Supreme Court nominee wouldn’t be considered until after the next president is sworn inso the American people have an opportunity to weigh in on this important issue."
Senate Republican leaders have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings or an up-or-down vote on any Supreme Court nominee put forward by Obama. "The Leader has been clear: the next president will make this nomination," Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in an email Tuesday.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Julia Edwards and Andrew Hay)