Mitch McConnell, the powerful Republican minority leader, said it’s “highly unlikely” he’d allow a confirmation vote on a new Supreme Court justice during the remainder of Joe Biden’s presidential term if Republicans retook the Senate.
“I think it’s highly unlikely,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday. “In fact no, I don’t think either party, if controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election. What was different in 2020 is we were of the same party as the president. That’s why we went ahead with it.”
In 2020, senator McConnell, who had previously argued that the Senate should hold off on confirming Supreme Court justices during election years, rammed through the nomination of the conservative justice Amy Coney Barrett roughly a week before the 2020 presidential election, following the death of the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The Kentucky Republican, who would control the Senate’s voting schedule once again if the GOP retook the upper house, also said that even if a Democratic president tried to nominate a new justice in 2023, “we’d have to wait and see what happens.”
The remarks are the latest in Mr McConnell’s history of slowing the Senate to a halt to resist Democratic priorities, and further proof of the body’s general disfunction.
In 2016, following the sudden death of the conservative justice Antonin Scalia during the final year of the Obama administration, Mr McConnell led the Republican-controlled Senate in stalling then ultimately rejecting the president’s nominee Merrick Garland for nearly a year, waiting until Donald Trump was elected to fill the vacancy on the high court. It was the longest interval between a Supreme Court nomination and a Senate decision in US history.
It was nothing new for Mr McConnell though, a master of delay who famously said in 2010 the “most important thing we want to achieve” was making Barack Obama a “one-term president.”
At other times, the Senate leader has criticised Mr Biden for not being sufficiently bipartisan, complaining earlier this month that “the era of bipartisanship is over,” though political scientists like Norman Orenstein have argued it was in fact Republicans, under the leadership of people like Mr Connell, who ended it.
The prospect of Republicans securing yet another conservative-leaning justice on the Court, after Mr Trump added three — justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — has some in the Democratic party urging the liberal Stephen Breyer, now 82 years old, to retire, so Mr Biden can fill his seat.
New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez signalled her support for such a move over the weekend.