Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bows his head in prayer during an event on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

McConnell dissembles as Supreme Court fight enters the home stretch

Updated
Over the weekend, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), a red-state Democrat who’s up for re-election next year, announced his intention to support Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, becoming the third Senate Dem to do so. Will that be enough to help Donald Trump’s selection cross the 60-vote threshold?

Probably not. As of this morning, 37 Senate Democrats have said publicly they’ll support the party’s filibuster; 3 have said they’ll support Gorsuch’s confirmation; and 8 are undecided. If just half of the undecided Dems side with the party’s leadership, the Republican majority will likely change the rules to eliminate filibusters on Supreme Court nominees – the so-called “nuclear option.”

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, NBC News’ Chuck Todd asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) what’s likely to happen.
TODD: I understand that. But I go back to we’re about to go on a situation where there’s going to be this extra level of filibuster. And let me ask you about that. Do you have the votes to change the rules among Republicans? Do you have all 52 Republicans ready to stand behind you, that if the Democrats filibuster Neil Gorsuch, you have the votes to change the rules?

MCCONNELL: Yeah, what I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week. How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends.
In other words, either Gorsuch will be confirmed on an up-or-down vote, or Republicans will change the rules and then confirm Gorsuch on an up-or-down vote.

But McConnell didn’t stop there. He came armed with a series of talking points, each of which were based on obvious errors of fact and/or judgment:

1. Reflecting on the Merrick Garland nomination, and his party’s unprecedented blockade, McConnell said, “[T]he tradition had been not to confirm vacancies created in the middle of a presidential year…. We were right in the middle of a presidential election year.” First, Garland was nominated in March, which isn’t the middle of an election year, and second, no such tradition exists in reality.

2. McConnell, pointing to the election results, argued, “The American people decided they wanted Donald Trump to make the nomination, not Hillary Clinton.” In reality, Americans preferred Clinton to Trump by nearly 3 million votes. (Trump won by way of the electoral college, not “the American people.”)

3. McConnell added, “What’s before us now Chuck is not what happened last year.” That’s backwards: there’s a Supreme Court vacancy because of what happened last year. What’s before us now is the direct result of the events in 2016.

4. McConnell insisted, “There’s no rational basis, no principled reason for voting against Neil Gorsuch.” Given that McConnell imposed a year-long blockade on a qualified, compromise nominee in a raw display of maximalist partisanship, the GOP leader long ago forfeited the right to talk about “principles.”

5. Pointing to a rule that doesn’t exist, McConnell concluded, “You don’t fill Supreme Court vacancies in the middle of a presidential election. That’s what Joe Biden said back in 1992.” That’s not even close to what Joe Biden said back in 1992.

And while it’s problematic for the Senate Majority Leader to make untrue claims about a Supreme Court nomination fight, let’s also note how bizarre it is for McConnell to focus so heavily on process. A year ago, the Kentucky Republican imposed an unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, refusing to give a compromise nominee a hearing, a debate, or a vote.

McConnell doesn’t seem to understand this – or at least he’s pretending not to – but he’s effectively asking the Senate to honor the dictates of a rule book he set fire to last year.

Postscript: ABC News’ Matt Dowd, a former George W. Bush aide, suggested over the weekend that Senate Dems should offer Senate Republicans a deal: delay the Gorsuch vote until the conclusion of the investigation into Trump and the Russia scandal, at which point Dems would allow an up-or-down vote without a filibuster.

I’m not sure I’d take that deal if I were in the Democratic leadership, but I’ll admit, it’s an interesting way of looking at the broader dynamic.

Second Postscript: The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to advance Gorsuch’s nomination to the floor later today.

Mitch McConnell and Supreme Court

McConnell dissembles as Supreme Court fight enters the home stretch

Updated