Mitch McConnell smiled as he told a group of business leaders in Kentucky that he would fill a Supreme Court vacancy if it arose in 2020, breaking his own rule set for Barack Obama in 2016.
McConnell famously denied Obama the right to fill the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016, saying that it should be up to the voters to decide on a president who would get to fill that vacancy instead. The move had no precedent and was widely criticized, but McConnell refused to have the Senate consider Obama’s nomination of the moderate Merrick Garland.
As CNN reported, McConnell has changed his tune now that Donald Trump is in office. Speaking at a luncheon held by the Paducah Chamber of Commerce, McConnell was asked if he would still abide by the rule that a Supreme Court vacancy should not be filled during a presidential election year.
As the report noted, McConnell took a sip from what appeared to be iced tea and smiled.
“Oh, we’d fill it,” McConnell said, drawing laughter from the audience.
A spokesman for McConnell confirmed the reporting and said that 2020 would be different because in 2016, the White House was controlled by a Democrat and the Senate by Republicans.
In a sharp reversal from 2016, Mitch McConnell has said that if a Supreme Court vacancy occurs during next year's presidential election, he would work to confirm a nominee appointed by Trump. https://t.co/1b7i71myDc
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 28, 2019
McConnell had already floated the idea that he would allow Trump to fill a potential Supreme Court vacancy should it arise in 2020, going back on his own rule. Just like his original stance, the sharp reversal has drawn criticism and cries of hypocrisy from Democrats — as well as some pushing for 2020 Democratic candidates to be more bold in their response to McConnell.
As Time noted earlier this year, there has been a push for the Democratic nominee to “stack” the Supreme Court by increasing the number of justices from its current level of nine. Many believe that McConnell was disingenuous in giving conservatives a five to four advantage on the court, and believe that Democrats should not be bound to play by a set of rules that McConnell and Republicans refuse to abide by themselves.
“The Left isn’t nearly as enthusiastic about the Court as the Right is,” said Kate Kendell, who is leading the Pack the Courts campaign. “This is a bold and brash and provocative and critical strategy. Anything that helps to counter the feckless hand-wringing that so many in Democratic leadership have engaged in, I’m all for.”
Some Democratic candidates have expressed a willingness to consider stacking the Supreme Court, including South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, who said he would increase the number of justices to 15, with five chosen by each party and the other five unanimously nominated by the 10 appointed justices.