Anyone who thought Mitch McConnell was going to give up a prized Supreme Court seat purely for the sake of appearances hasn’t been paying attention.
With four words and a proud smile, the Senate majority leader this week confirmed what those who have watched him closely have long understood to be true: If a vacancy on the high court occurs in the election year of 2020, the Republican majority that McConnell leads would vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee. “Oh, we’d fill it,” McConnell said in response to a what-if question about the Supreme Court during an appearance in his home state of Kentucky.
McConnell’s assertion is likely to come as worrisome, if unsurprising, news to liberals who fear for the health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 86-year-old justice who has no plans to retire but who has endured multiple falls and cancer scares in the past decade. It also serves as a reminder to Democrats musing about eliminating the legislative filibuster that the same option could be open to Republicans, and the Senate leader they’re hoping to topple is never shy about making full use of the powers of his position—even those he has previously dismissed.
It was the first time McConnell had been that explicit about his intentions regarding a 2020 Supreme Court vacancy, and his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, immediately denounced him as a “hypocrite.” After all, McConnell had famously—or infamously, to Democrats—blocked former President Barack Obama’s pick of Judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016 on the grounds that “the American people should have a voice” in the selection of the next justice. Why, a Democrat might wonder, shouldn’t that standard hold in the final year of a Republican president’s term?