By Jeff Zeleny, CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent
Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday that he looked forward to sitting down for a conversation with Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, pledging to approach the historic confirmation vote with an open mind.
“This is a historic occasion and merits careful review,” Romney said, adding that he could support her confirmation to the nation’s highest court even though their ideologies differ sharply.
While Romney stopped far short of offering his support for Jackson, the Utah Republican and GOP presidential nominee from a decade ago said he believes that all presidents have the right to nominate qualified candidates to the court — and all senators carry an obligation to render judgment that should go far beyond partisanship.
“I recognize that she’s taking the place of Stephen Breyer. I want to see whether she really does have the qualifications and capabilities that he brought to the bench,” Romney told CNN. “Stephen Breyer and I probably had a different judicial philosophy and yet he had a legitimate role there, and I would have voted to confirm him.”
Romney said he will study Jackson through the same lens.
“If she is in the mold of, if you will, a center-left Democrat, that’s probably the type of mold I could support,” Romney said. “On the other hand, if she is beyond the normal range of Democrats in the Democratic Party, that’s something that I would find a bridge too far.”
Jackson has won Senate confirmation three times, including last year for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, when three Republican senators joined Democrats in supporting her nomination.
Romney, who does not serve on the Judiciary Committee, voted against Jackson’s confirmation last year. But he said he views that vote as entirely separate from the Supreme Court seat and intends to conduct his own review.
“I did not have the occasion to sit down with her” last year, Romney said. “I look forward to do that this time.”
President Joe Biden has promised all Republican and Democratic senators that Jackson will sit down for one-on-one interviews with anyone who wishes to meet with her. Romney put himself squarely in that camp, saying he looked forward to studying her legal background and meeting her personally.
Romney said he has been watching with great interest the endorsements Jackson has received from some former Republican judges, including former federal Judge Thomas Griffith, a Bush appointee who served with Jackson and praised her as “immensely qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.”
“Presidents should be entitled to their nominees provided certain levels of competence and qualifications are met,” Griffith wrote. “Judge Jackson clearly exceeds that bar.”
Griffith, the former general counsel of Brigham Young University, is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney, who knows Griffith well, said the endorsement caught his attention and carried weight.
“I was impressed by that,” Romney told reporters Tuesday. “He knows her, and that was a very powerful and useful endorsement.”
Not all Republicans are as eager to meet with Jackson, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said Monday that he did not know whether he would even agree to a face-to-face interview. He assailed Jackson as “the preferred candidate of the radical left,” even though he had supported her elevation to the influential appeals court last year.
As he walked briskly through the halls of the Capitol on Monday night, Graham did not have an immediate answer about how his views of Jackson had changed so dramatically in less than a year. Asked by CNN whether he found her ideology to be “radical” last year, he said: “I didn’t see it that way.”
The South Carolina GOP senator vented his frustration at Biden for nominating Jackson for the Supreme Court, rather than his preferred candidate from his home state, Judge Michelle S. Childs.
“He can nominate anybody he wants,” Graham said. “But I gave him a path to pick a highly qualified person that could get 60-something votes and the left won, so we’ll see what I do.”
Jackson will arrive on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to begin meeting with senators, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as well as the top Democrat and Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Democratic Senate leaders are hoping a confirmation vote could take place in mid-April. If all 50 Democratic senators support Jackson as they are expected to do, no Republicans votes are needed, but the President has expressed a desire to gain bipartisan support for Jackson.
Romney made clear on Tuesday that he was among those who would keep an open mind until learning more. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the other two Republicans who supported Jackson’s confirmation to the appeals court last year and have signaled an open mind to considering her for the Supreme Court vacancy.
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