Having successfully enabled the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t publicly beat his chest, do a #BeersForBrett keg stand, or admit to cynically rigging the court’s new conservative majority on Saturday, but he was still bursting with pride over the vote being a “seminal moment” in the GOP’s decades-long effort to dominate the U.S. judiciary.
Speaking with members of the press before and after the Senate’s 50 to 48 vote on Saturday, McConnell called the outrage over Kavanaugh — who has been credibly accused of sexual assault and perjury, and recently displayed naked partisan animus toward Democrats while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee — a blessing for the GOP, said he didn’t expect the opposition’s anger to last in a meaningful way, and made it clear he feels pretty great about everything he’s done to get to this point.
Citing the recent tightening in several Senate races, McConnell indicated he was happy about the furor over Kavanaugh, noting that the fight has “energized our base like nothing else we’ve been able to come up with” and has served as an election-year advertisement for the importance of Senate control. Democrats “played right into our hands, in retrospect,” he insisted to Fox News on Saturday. And regarding the political cost the GOP may have to pay for its pushing of Kavanaugh and its self-serving dismissal of the allegations against him, McConnell brushed off the outrage, insisting that “these things always blow over.”
He’s also happy that Kavanaugh, who he has called a “political gift,” came out on top because it demonstrated GOP resolve and, in his mind, cleared Kavanaugh of any wrongdoing. The judge may not have been McConnell’s first choice, or even his last choice if had come to that, but the majority leader undoubtedly believes Kavanaugh will get the job he wants him to do done.
And McConnell clearly holds disdain for the protesters — many of whom were women and survivors of sexual assault — who have desperately tried to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination over the last few weeks, but he considered them useful idiots, too. “Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference,” McConnell told the New York Times. “So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”
Friday night on Fox News and in other remarks, McConnell has characterized the treatment he and and other Kavanaugh-supporting senators had received from protesters as “assault.” And he has repeatedly championed how he and his colleagues “stood up to the mob,” and “did the right thing for a good man.”
“To leave [Kavanaugh] hanging after what they’d done to him was not fair to him or the country,” McConnell explained on Saturday, likely referring to Democrats, protesters, and Kavanaugh’s accusers. “I’m glad that it ended up being a situation where he was, in my view, exonerated, and is going to be on the Supreme Court.”
“This is a chamber in which the politics of intimidation and personal destruction do not win the day,” he said on the floor of the Senate before the final vote.
Kavanaugh was only exonerated by his supporters, and will likely remain a suspicious and illegitimate presence on the court for countless Americans for the rest of his lifetime appointment — and may even help delegitimize the court itself. Kavanaugh was not on trial, and the investigation into whether he had sexually assaulted women in high school and college was deliberately restricted by Senate Republicans and the Trump administration to protect his nomination. Whether Kavanaugh perjured himself, or whether he was too much of a right-wing partisan to serve all Americans were also issues of no consequence to McConnell or the Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.
McConnell refused to say whether or not he believed any of the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh made by Christine Blasey Ford, the first woman to come forward. But according to the Times, McConnell tried to calm President Trump down two weeks ago after Trump had found Ford credible during her Senate testimony, reassuring the president the political game over her sexual assault allegations was “only at halftime” ahead of Kavanaugh’s testimony — which Republican leaders made sure would come after Ford’s, and which was largely designed to win over the president.
The Senate majority leader also mischaracterized, at best, the limited, last-minute, one-week-only investigation that a handful of GOP Senators insisted on. “The FBI needed to talk to anyone Dr. Ford mentioned, and also [the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez,] and anyone she mentioned. And so that was the scope,” he told Bloomberg, citing the concerns of wavering Republicans. It seems clear, however, that the FBI did not talk to everyone it could or should have, if those even were the real parameters, and it has been reported that McConnell, Senate Republicans, and Trump administration officials like White House counsel Don McGahn — Kavanaugh’s biggest backer — came up with a plan to successfully stifle the investigation, even limiting it to less than what Trump himself had originally wanted.
McConnell seems to see himself as both the hero, and a victim, in this story. His victimhood is at the hands of the women who spoke up and confronted members of Congress, and on behalf of his fellow Republicans, including Kavanaugh. His heroism is a result of his willingness to do anything to grab and hold onto power in service of his ultraconservative cause. McConnell ripped up Senate precedent in spring 2016 when he blocked the normal confirmation process for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. He insisted that it was the Senate’s responsibility to deny Obama his constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, because, in an election year, the vacancy should be filled by whoever wins in order to let American voters weigh in (even though they already had by electing Obama by a considerable margin, twice). So the majority leader used his power to ignore Garland’s nomination, proudly tell off the president, and disable the court for more than a year.
As was obvious then and now, McConnell didn’t care about the will of the people, and was just holding the vacancy open and praying the Republican would win the election. Trump, who cares about U.S. democratic norms even less than McConnell, did win the electoral college and presidency that year, and McConnell has been able to confirm not one, but two new conservative justices as a result. The senator even suggested on Saturday that by blocking Garland and putting the Supreme Court on the ballot in 2016, he prompted Trump’s victory, and thus singlehandedly enabled the new conservative majority on the court and everything that court will ultimately accomplish.
Indeed, with his dream achieved on Saturday, McConnell admitted that his whole stated premise for blocking Garland — that it was, as he once said, “about a principle, not a person” — was bullshit, unless the right to take over the judicial branch by any means necessary was the principle. Asked if he would commit to not confirming a Trump nominee to the Supreme Court if another vacancy happened in 2020, McConnell replied: “We’ll see what it looks like in 2020. First, do we have a vacancy. Second, who is in charge of the Senate.”
One thing the majority leader is perfectly happy to preview, however, is that he is far from finished instituting his “positive impact” on Americans whether a majority of them want that or not, as he explained to Politico on Saturday:
“This project … is the most important thing that the Senate and an administration of like mind — which we ended up having — could do for the country,” McConnell said. “Putting strict constructionists, relatively young, on the courts for lifetime appointments is the best way to have a long-term positive impact on America. And today is a seminal moment in that effort.”