WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo on Monday accused fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of saying one thing in Kansas and another in Washington about filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court, prompting speculation that the House member could be planning a primary challenge against the incumbent senator.
Pompeo repeatedly evaded answering whether he is considering a primary challenge against Moran in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
"We just never comment on campaign activities that we are engaged in," Pompeo said.
The political firestorm started last week when Moran told a town hall in Cimarron, Kansas, that Republicans should hold a hearing on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, a position at odds with Senate Republican leaders who are refusing to do so. Republican leaders argue that the next president elected in November should nominate a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly in Texas. Conservatives cried foul at Moran and he backtracked, saying that after examining Garland's record he no longer needed a hearing to decide he would oppose the nominee.
Early Monday, Pompeo issued a statement that harshly criticized his colleague in the Kansas Congressional delegation.
Pompeo said he was pleased Moran, "at least for now," is prepared to deny Garland a hearing, and said it was great for Kansas that voters forced the senator to reconsider his decision.
"As elected officials, we should never say one thing in Cimarron, Kansas and something else in the social parlors of Washington, D.C.," Pompeo wrote.
Pompeo said he did not realize the political speculation his written statement had generated until he began getting contacted by media outlets.
He declined to talk about any polling his campaign or others may have done, saying only that he was focused on representing his Kansas district located around the state's largest city of Wichita. He added that he always gets his "team focused" before talking to the public about official or campaign projects: "I always think horse before cart."
Asked for a response, Moran's office emailed a statement saying the two lawmakers have worked together on numerous issues benefiting Pompeo's district.
"I wouldn't have expected him to run against me without the courtesy of a conversation," Moran said in the statement.
In 2014, incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts had to beat back a nasty primary challenge from tea party favorite Milton Wolf. Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker dismissed the talk of a repeat intraparty brawl this year.
"Moran has had a full-out campaign for months and, you know, a lot of money that would make it difficult logistically this late to get going," Barker said.
Moran and Pompeo were both elected in the Republican wave of 2010. Moran faces re-election this fall in a deeply red state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since the 1930s. While he is so far unopposed in the Aug. 2 Republican Senate primary, the filing deadline for candidates who might run against him is not until June 1. Two political newcomers have filed to run against Moran on the Democratic side this fall.
An advocate for Obama's Supreme Court nominee said he was disappointed Moran had backtracked.
"It is unfortunate that Sen. Moran made a really bold step in stepping out and saying it is imperative for the Senate to do their job and Mike Pompeo is turning around and saying for the Senate to do its job is a bad thing," said Chris Pumpelly, a spokesman for Americans United for Change.
"That is really part of the problem we have in politics today," Pumpelly said. "And Mike Pompeo clearly is part of that."