Ignoring his purported principles, McConnell would fill SCOTUS vacancy

Remember four years ago, when McConnell said it'd be wrong to fill a SCOTUS vacancy within nine months of an election? He's changed his mind.
Senate Democrats And Republicans Hold Weekly Policy Luncheons
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol August 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. McConnell and his leadership team said they will work to pass a cybersecurity bill before the end of the week when the Senate will break for four weeks.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

On Feb. 13, 2016, then-Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly. Immediately thereafter, Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), insisted that the vacancy on the high court go unfilled -- pointing to the ongoing presidential election as an excuse.

As GOP senators put it at the time, it'd be "inappropriate" and "disruptive" to go through the confirmation process in the middle of a national election process, notwithstanding the fact that Election Day was nine months away at the time of Scalia's passing.

Exactly four years to the day after the conservative justice's death, McConnell appeared on Fox News and was asked whether he'd fill a Supreme Court vacancy this year, even if one were to arise closer to Election Day than Scalia's vacancy. Take a wild guess what the GOP leader's newest position is.

"If you're asking me a hypothetical about whether this Republican Senate would confirm a member of the Supreme Court due to a vacancy created this year -- yeah, we would fill it."

Yes, of course he would. To think McConnell is driven by deeply held principles and an abiding commitment to propriety is to make a serious mistake.

For those who may have forgotten some of the events from four years ago, let's quickly circle back to our earlier coverage. After Scalia died, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a center-left, compromise jurist, who was recommended by Senate Republicans, to fill the vacancy. It opened the door to a historic opportunity, unseen in recent decades: the Supreme Court could finally stop drifting to the far-right.

McConnell instead decided to impose an unprecedented high-court blockade, gambling that Americans would ignore his maximalist partisan scheme, and elect a Republican president and Republican Congress.

The GOP leader insisted his position was rooted in principle. "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice," McConnell said at the time. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." He even invented a rule that did not exist – the manufactured "Biden Rule" – to serve as an official pretext for the scheme.

It was all a lie. As of last week, McConnell doesn't even feel the need to pretend otherwise.

To be sure, for the right, his gamble paid historic dividends. Instead of a center-left justice working alongside a conservative minority on the court, Americans are dealing with the opposite of what they voted for. The "heist of the century" – to some, a move that was effectively a political crime – worked like a charm.

And now the ringleader is flaunting his misdeeds, proud of his handiwork. The senator who effectively "broke" American politics, unburdened by shame, last year made the theft of a Supreme Court seat the centerpiece of his re-election campaign kickoff.

It's probably best not to call his latest remarks a "flip" or a "reversal," because those descriptions are predicated on the idea that McConnell's positions and principles in 2016 were sincere and that he's since changed his mind. Alas, that's not what happened.

The Senate majority leader concocted nonsensical arguments in bad faith, peddled claims he knew to be false, and asked the political world to play along with his transparent scam.

McConnell's comments from last week were extraordinary, not because he's changed direction, but because he acknowledged his shameless and brazen cynicism in public.