President Barack Obama on Thursday singled out Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado's freshman Republican who unseated an incumbent Democrat in 2014, calling it "irresponsible" to refuse a meeting with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
"Sen. Gardner has not been doing his job as a senator," Obama told The Gazette in a short interview after the Air Force Academy graduation. "He is perfectly free after having met with Judge Garland to conclude that 'this is not somebody that I am going to vote for.' "
Obama nominated Garland, chief justice of the Washington, D.C., federal appeals court, in March. The New York Times said aides called Garland the "in-case-of-emergency-break-glass" candidate because he was so difficult to oppose.
"Everybody agrees that he is perhaps the most qualified candidate for a Supreme Court seat ever," Obama said. "Here is a guy who has been a U.S. prosecutor and taken on some of the highest-profile terrorism cases in our history. . He's actually been a judge longer than Chief Justice (John) Roberts, who he groomed before Chief Justice Roberts went up to the Supreme Court."
But Republicans aren't debating Garland's credentials, although U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said that Garland is a liberal judge who is opposed by the National Rifle Association.
Gardner couldn't be reached for comment Friday but said in a statement earlier that "our next election is too soon and the stakes are too high; the American people deserve a role in the process as the next Supreme Court justice will influence the direction of this country for years to come."
Obama cautioned against a precedent being set by Republicans by refusing to hold a hearing on Garland.
"If we start getting to the point where the Senate operates in such a partisan manner that even someone like Merrick Garland can't get the courtesy of a hearing and a vote, then that's going to start breaking down the system to the point where we can't get any judges confirmed," he said. "Our system of justice is going to break down, and that's going to have consequences for all of us."
Obama hasn't given up hope that he can win a hearing.
"What I've seen is that originally all the Republicans said they weren't going to meet with him," Obama said. "Since that time, at least 15 have met with him. They have all concluded, by the way, that he is a really fine man and a really good judge, even though they haven't yet agreed to give him a hearing. We are going to just keep on chipping away."