Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is willing to consider a Democratic president’s Supreme Court nominee in 2021 if President Donald Trump loses reelection, calling it “politically unsustainable” to extend his blockade into the opening days of a new presidency.
McConnell on Thursday notably did not commit to confirming a nominee from Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or one of the other 21 Democratic contenders. But he did acknowledge that a new president’s Supreme Court nomination would receive votes, unlike Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016.
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“Obviously, if you have a vacancy in the first year of a term of a president, you’re not going to fail to fill the vacancy for a very lengthy period of time no matter what political opposition is,” McConnell told reporters at a pre-recess news conference. “I can’t imagine any scenario under which the early part of a president’s term you would not have a vote. That doesn’t mean the person would necessarily be confirmed.”
The subject of how to get McConnell to fill a Supreme Court vacancy played a major role in Wednesday’s Democratic debate, with several candidates trying to articulate a way around McConnell if he retains his title under a Democratic president. Senate Republicans hold a narrow majority of 53 seats, but could beat back a Democratic takeover next year even if Trump loses reelection.
“In a situation like that, I think a Democratic president confronting a Republican president would obviously be concerned about: ‘How do I get he or she confirmed?’” McConnell said. “I would guess there would be much more consultation and much more back-and-forth discussion in a situation like that.”
McConnell declined to fill a vacancy in 2016 for President Barack Obama, arguing that past precedent dictated that opposing parties are not obligated to fill seats that open during a presidential election. The Kentucky Republican received major blowback from Democrats for keeping the vacancy open after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, but held firm and has now confirmed two conservative justices, swinging the court to the right.
He has also said he would fill any vacancy that occurs for Trump next year, drawing cries of hypocrisy from Democrats.