McConnell declined to allow any hearings on Garland after Obama chose him in March 2016 as his pick for the high court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The Senate leader claimed the vacancy shouldn’t be filled in the months leading up to a presidential election, citing historical precedent.
But on Sunday, McConnell offered a revised version of his reasoning and refused to say he wouldn’t push for confirmation of a potential Supreme Court nominee from President Donald Trump in 2020.
Discussing Brett Kavanaugh’s Saturday confirmation to the court, Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked McConnell to respond to a clip of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) slamming the Kentucky lawmaker’s handling of the Garland nomination.
“We didn’t attack Merrick Garland’s background and try to destroy him,” McConnell responded on “Fox News Sunday.” “We simply followed the tradition in America, which is that if you have… a Senate of a different party than the president you don’t fill a vacancy created in a presidential year. That went all the way back to 1888.”
Wallace, picking up on McConnell’s revised version of his rationale for blocking Garland, pressed him on his mention of party difference.
“When you blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination from President Obama, you basically said that we don’t do this in a presidential election year, and that we wait until the election and then whoever the people choose (for the White House), they get to pick the Supreme Court nominee,” Wallace said. “But what you just said now was it’s a question of whether or not the party in control of the Senate is different than the president.”
“If Donald Trump were to name somebody in the final year of his first term in 2020, are you saying that you would go ahead with that nomination?” he asked McConnell.
McConnell danced around the inquiry, pointing again to the Senate’s voting record in the 1880s. When Wallace tried to ask the question again, McConnell interrupted him: “The answer to your question is we’ll see whether there’s a vacancy in 2020.”
Later Sunday, CBS News’ John Dickerson continued to grill McConnell about his reason for blocking Garland’s nomination.
“Your decision to block Merrick Garland is something [Democrats] see as having kicked off a new stage in the partisanship associated with Supreme Court nominees,” Dickerson said on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”
McConnell claimed again that he had been merely following historical precedent, but Dickerson challenged him on the facts.
“John you are not listening to me,” McConnell said. “The history is exactly as I told you.” Dickerson responded that they “have a disagreement about the history.”
The Republican senator’s remarks on Sunday echoed his response to reporters a day earlier when asked a similar question about a potential 2020 Supreme Court nominee.
“We’ll see what it looks like in 2020,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s latest comments on blocking Garland leave wiggle room for Trump to potentially nominate another Supreme Court justice in 2020 if an opening occurs then and if the GOP still controls the Senate, despite a looming presidential election.
Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice hours after the Senate narrowly confirmed him, 50-48. His confirmation likely ushers in a fundamentally more conservative tilt on the nation’s highest court. He is the second Supreme Court justice appointed under Trump. Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017 to the seat that McConnell held open during Obama’s final 10 months in office.
This article has been updated with McConnell’s comments on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”