Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., revealed Tuesday that Republicans would fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020 if given the opportunity – gleefully reversing his previous stance on election year vacancies.
The Senate majority leader made the remarks during a Paducah Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky. Asked by an attendee what he would do if a justice retired next year, leaving a vacancy on the bench, McConnell took a long sip of what appeared to be iced tea.
Then, he declared with a grin: “Oh, we’d fill it.”
The audience erupted in laughter.
From February 2016, McConnell famously refused to consider Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died suddenly. A veteran party man, McConnell suddenly became a populist, claiming that the American people had a right to weigh in on the decision by voting in the November presidential election.
An evolution in thinking
According to CNN, McConnell had been hinting at his new position for months. In an October appearance on Fox News, he was also asked how he would handle a Supreme Court opening during the upcoming election year.
“We’ll see whether there’s a vacancy in 2020,” McConnell said coyly.
But at Tuesday’s luncheon, McConnell said that confirming federal judges would be a key part of his legacy. Now running for his seventh term in the Senate, he said that overhauling the judiciary was his best chance at having a “long-lasting positive impact.”
Contrasting appointing judges with cutting taxes, which he also managed to do in 2017, McConnell said: “What can’t be undone is a lifetime appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of the judge is to follow the law. That’s the most important thing we’ve done in the country, which cannot be undone.”
The Mitch McConnell Supreme Court
As suggested by his embrace of the derogatory nickname “Cocaine Mitch,” McConnell has long embraced his reputation as a ruthless partisan operator. That has never been more true than in his ongoing overhaul of the federal court system under Trump.
Following the February 2016 death of Scalia, McConnell and other Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to the Obama White House that they would not consider a nominee to fill the vacancy. And indeed, Garland never even got a hearing.
Soon after President Donald Trump took office, in April 2017, McConnell deployed the Senate’s “nuclear option” to push Trump’s nominee for the still-open seat, Neil Gorsuch, through the confirmation process.
McConnell has since shepherded not just the confirmation of a second conservative justice in Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, but also has helped Trump get judges approved to the federal judiciary at a record pace.
Thanks to McConnell’s efforts to slow and block Obama nominees to federal courts during the last two years of his presidency, Trump had over 100 vacancies to fill when he took office in January 2017. McConnell then sped-up debate on judicial nominees over the next two years, helping to confirm 30 Trump nominees to federal appeals courts. That is the fastest pace of such appointments ever recorded by the Congressional Research Service.
To date, Trump has seen 107 federal judges confirmed in the first 28 months of his presidency, including 40 appeals court nominees. McConnell’s efforts have already had a dramatic effect on the federal judiciary, including flipping the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to majority Republican appointees for the first time ever.
Democrats, who have watched McConnell’s machinations with impotent rage, slammed his change of heart on election-year confirmations as blatant hypocrisy.
“Props to the McConnell team for saying the quiet part out loud (and on the record)! They spent 3 years pretending he blocked Garland because of some kind of historical precedent. They finally admitted it’s because Garland was nominated by a Democrat,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Schumer also tweeted his frustration, calling McConnell a “hypocrite” in an elaborately crafted post.
| Senator McConnell. |
| is a |
| hypocrite. |
| ＿＿＿＿＿_＿＿＿_ |
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 29, 2019
Meanwhile, McConnell’s office insisted that the current moment was totally different from 2016. His spokesman David Popp pointed out that the White House and Senate were controlled by two different parties when Obama attempted to nominate Garland to the Supreme Court. This time, he noted, both bodies re controlled by the GOP.