There are a lot of people who are very upset that Mitch McConnell would dare claim that the Republican-held Senate would fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020 if it came up.
McConnell was asked, "Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?"
The leader took a long sip of his drink before announcing with a smile, "Oh, we'd fill it," triggering loud laughter from the audience. https://t.co/gMyqqJpY6r
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) May 28, 2019
The claim is that McConnell is a hypocrite because he wouldn’t even put the matter up for a vote in 2016, leading to Merrick Garland’s nomination going nowhere. At the time, McConnell said the American people had a right to decide on the fate of the Supreme Court in the 2016 election. Now, however, he’s fully on board with taking up the vote in 2020 if the opportunity arose.
The outrage here is, on its face, understandable. However, the circumstances are very different from those in 2016.
Let us start by acknowledging something I have claimed since McConnell was thwarting conservative efforts in the Obama Era: McConnell is a super villain. His entire purpose is to be the bad guy, and he does so with gusto and, I readily admit, way more success than even the villains in comic books. So, taking the one position that causes the most uproar is the most on-brand move he could make.
However, you have to also realize that McConnell is not entirely in the wrong here. In 2016, Obama was on his way out. He did not have a clear successor, because Biden was not running and Hillary Clinton was her own candidate, two years removed from serving in Obama’s Cabinet. The fate of the country was very much up in the air (far more up in the air than most, including myself, admitted at the time).
So, the American people had to choose between two completely new administrations to bring into the White House. That’s different than the issue in 2020, because Trump will not be a lame duck president, but working to prove to the American people that he is someone who should be trusted with the job for a second term. His theoretical nomination in 2020, then, is a campaign effort, which says to America “Look, I keep making great choices” or “I have lost my mind and you should choose someone else.”
Garland was in no way a choice Hillary would or could campaign on. His entire existence as a political option was as the “safe option” for Republicans. That’s not something Hillary could afford to be publicly proud of, because it would have cost her Bernie Bro vote.
Meanwhile, in the 2014 election cycle, it was clear the American government sought a divided government by handing control of the legislative branch to the party opposite the White House. They sought the means for each body to keep the other in check. Refusing to bring Garland up for a vote was a part of that decision.
There is also the fact that our resident super villain was also quite frank in saying that the President has a constitutional right to nominate whoever he (or she!) wants, and the Senate has a constitutional right to advise and consent – or refuse to do either as befits the situation. McConnell chose the latter in 2016 and will choose the former in 2020.
However, even if you bought all the political arguments involved here, I have another theory that, while improbably, explains McConnell’s actions and words even better: He can see into the future.
Think about it. He took an amazing risk by not bringing Garland up for a vote. He chose to believe that, against all odds, Donald Trump would not only win, but be advisable on who to nominate for the nation’s highest court. What’s more, he apparently saw far enough into the future to know that Brett Kavanaugh would help offset the losses the Republicans would face in 2018.
That would mean he sees into the future here, and either he knows Trump will lose in 2020 or he knows the Democrats will go even more insane fighting a 2020 Supreme Court nominee and hand the GOP and even better victory at that point.
I’m not saying that Mitch McConnell is a psychic or a fortune teller or anything like that. However, it would be very irresponsible for us to completely ignore the possibility given the evidence.
But, does any of this make McConnell a hypocrite, or make this some sort of reversal of opinion? No. McConnell is not only a super villain but a political animal. He knows how to play these games.