Mitch McConnell said this week that he would confirm a nominee to a Supreme Court vacancy if it came up this year, apparently breaking the rule he set for former President Barack Obama when there was a vacant seat in early 2016.
At the time, McConnell said that he would not hold confirmation hearings for any nominee Obama put forward, saying there was a presidential election later that year and that voters should decide who would fill the seat as the next president. This followed the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Obama nominated Washington, D.C., circuit judge Merrick Garland, but McConnell never allowed hearings to start.
McConnell appears to have reversed that stance now in the final year of Donald Trump’s first term in office. In an interview with Fox News, McConnell said that he would allow Trump to fill an open seat.
“If you’re asking me a hypothetical… we would fill it,” McConnell said.
The Kentucky Republican claimed that in 2016, he was only arguing that a vacancy should not be filled in an election year if the opposing party had control of the U.S. Senate.
“Let me remind you what I said in 2016. I said you’d have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy on the Supreme Court occurring during a presidential election year was confirmed by a Senate of a different party than the President. That was the situation in 2016. That would not be the situation in 2020,” McConnell said.
But at the time the vacancy came up during Obama’s presidency, McConnell leaned strongly on the argument that it was up to the voters to decide, not that the party in power in the Senate needed to match the party holding the White House. The move was widely criticized by Democrats, who noted that McConnell made it his mission to block Obama from achieving any of his agenda.
As Salon noted, this is not the first time McConnell has admitted that he would go back on his rule for Obama in order to fill a vacancy for Trump in an election year. Last May, he told a local Kentucky Chamber of Commerce that filling a vacancy would be too important to pass up.
As the report added, McConnell’s change of course drew pushback from Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who claimed that McConnell needs to fill court vacancies because “he knows the GOP agenda is so radical & unpopular they can only achieve it in courts.”