After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cemented his reputation as the no-man to President Obama by denying the rightful Senate hearings of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Not one to be beholden to inconvenient logic, on Tuesday, McConnell reversed his position — which he once called one of his “proudest moments.” Attending a local Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky, McConnell was asked: “Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?” Appearing to bask in the moment, McConnell drank from what looked to be an iced tea, and smiled. “Oh we’d fill it,” he said. The audience laughed.
In his own 2020 race, McConnell is running on his two recent successes in the courts: His official launch video for his seventh Senate term focused on his work to confirm Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. “What can’t be undone is a life-time appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of the judge is to follow the law,” McConnell also said on Tuesday. The senator had previously balked at questions regarding a hypothetical SCOTUS vacancy during the upcoming campaign: “We’ll see if there is a vacancy,” he said in October 2018.
A spokesman for McConnell told CNN that the difference between this hypothetical and the real denial of the Garland seat is that, in 2016, the White House was controlled by a Democrat and the Senate by Republicans; today, both are GOP-controlled. Depending on interpretation, that defense could mean that McConnell considers the Senate-executive combination the “voice in the selection” that he claimed was absent in 2016. Or, it could mean that the Senate majority leader — once called the “gravedigger of American democracy” — is simply happy to adhere to norms when it is politically convenient.