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McConnell invents new rule to fill a Supreme Court seat in an election year

Mitch McConnell famously blocked President Obama’s Supreme Court pick from even having a hearing because it was an election year. Now that Trump’s in office, he says he’d do the exact opposite.

By Lisa Needham - May 29, 2019
Mitch McConnell

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, with much delight, that if there were a Supreme Court vacancy in the last year of Trump’s presidency, he’d happily fill it.

At a Chamber of Commerce event in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell was asked by an audience member what he and the Republican caucus would do in the event there was a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020, during the election.

“Oh, we’d fill it,” he said, grinning.

This is a complete about-face from McConnell’s previous “rule” in which he said that the Senate wouldn’t confirm a Supreme Court nominee in an election year.

McConnell was instrumental in blocking Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia when Scalia died early in 2016. McConnell sees it as the most significant decision of his Senate career. McConnell has said that “one of my proudest moments” was when he told President Obama “‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.'”

At the time, McConnell invoked what he called the “Biden rule.” That rule — which McConnell invented — says that if the country is “the middle of choosing who the next president is going to be,” the next president “ought to have this appointment.”

Those are McConnell’s exact words. Now, faced with the hypothetical that such a vacancy might occur in the last year of Trump’s presidency, he says he’d do the exact opposite, and he isn’t even subtle as to why. McConnell’s spokesman freely admitted McConnell would fill the seat because the GOP now controls both the presidency and the Senate.

But that isn’t the Biden rule. McConnell’s current stance is an entirely different “rule” that he started floating back in October 2018, where he claimed that “the tradition going back to the 1880s has been if a vacancy occurs in a presidential election year, and there is a different party in control of the Senate than the presidency, it is not filled.”

There is, unsurprisingly, no such “tradition.” The only time the Senate has blocked a Supreme Court nominee during an election year was when President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Abe Fortas to be chief justice in 1968. At that time, though, Democrats actually controlled both the Senate and the presidency. Further, Fortas faced opposition based on concerns about money he received for making speeches while sitting as an associate justice on the Supreme Court, not out of any opposition to his political party or views.

The only rule McConnell believes in is that the GOP should control everything, regardless of the will of the people. That’s why he has blocked over 100 bills that have passed out of the House since the Democrats took power in January 2019. That’s why he cries foul, invoking “obstruction” any time the Democrats even wish to spend time discussing a Trump judicial nominee.

And that’s why he’ll gleefully invent new “rules” in order to keep that control forever.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation. 

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