When Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasted no time in making clear that the Obama White House would not fill that vacancy. When the Democratic president chose a centrist, compromise choice for the Supreme Court, McConnell ensured that Judge Merrick Garland be treated in ways no high court nominee has ever been treated.
Senate Republicans, at McConnell's insistence, would not speak to Garland. Or give him a hearing. Or vote on him in committee. Or consider him on the Senate floor.
It was therefore difficult to stifle laughter yesterday afternoon when the GOP leader told reporters that it's "imperative" that Donald Trump's next Supreme Court nominee "be treated fairly."
The Senate Democrats' strategy for the upcoming fight is taking shape, but part of the minority party's pitch is calling out McConnell for his breathtaking cynicism, and demanding that he honor the standards he set just two years ago.
As Democrats geared up for an epic fight they're not likely to win over the next Supreme Court nominee, they spoke with one loud voice: Wait until after the midterm elections. [...]Democrats cried foul as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed Wednesday to push ahead with the confirmation of Kennedy's replacement before November's elections — despite refusing to advance President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee ahead of the 2016 presidential race.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke on the Senate floor yesterday, and argued that the vote on Justice Anthony Kennedy's successor should wait until after the midterm elections. Using a phrase several Democrats used, the New York senator added, "Anything but that would be the absolute height of hypocrisy."
As a simple matter of propriety, the Democratic argument has merit: if nine months before an election is too soon to consider a Supreme Court nominee, then four months is, too. The arithmetic is tough to argue with.
But there's a reason this argument will fall short: Mitch McConnell doesn't care.
The majority leader's detractors could offer an air-tight indictment, proving with absolute certainty that McConnell is an unprincipled hypocrite, indifferent to propriety, and outwardly hostile toward norms, traditions, and the integrity of American institutions.
And presented with the evidence, McConnell would shrug his shoulders and move forward with his plans.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank had a memorable column last year, on the heels of Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court confirmation, in which he described McConnell as the politician who effectively "broke America." Milbank added, "No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power."
The evidence to support the assessment is undeniable. As we discussed at the time, it was McConnell who changed Senate norms to require 60-vote supermajorities on every piece of legislation of any significance. It was McConnell who was responsible for creating the modern judicial confirmation wars.
It was McConnell who spearheaded every recent attempt to derail campaign-finance reforms. It was McConnell who cooked up an unprecedented scorched-earth scheme to undermine President Obama. It was McConnell who imposed the first-ever, year-long blockade on any Supreme Court nominee. It was McConnell who was warned about Russia's illegal attack on the American election last year, only to scuttle efforts to address the crisis in the hopes of putting Moscow's candidate in the Oval Office.
Fourteen months later, the majority leader is moving forward with a plan to confirm Trump's unnamed Supreme Court nominee quickly, as if the standards he established in 2016 simply don't matter.
Because to McConnell, they don't. He is a man without shame, committed to winning at all costs, without concern for consequences.
The question is not whether McConnell will honor his principles; we already know he will not. Rather, the question is whether every other Senate Republican is prepared to back his play.