Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said on Monday that, if Republicans took the majority in Congress in 2022, he will mobilize his party members to block a Supreme Court nominee made by President Joe Biden during the presidential election season, which will likely begin in earnest in 2023.
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, McConnell suggested that he would block a Democratic nominee if he had the majority “in the middle of [a presidential] election” the same way that he blocked former President Barack Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland, in 2016, months before the election that year. The senator said that act was “the single most consequential thing I’ve done in my time as majority leader of the Senate.”
McConnell went on to say that Republicans were justified in rushing Donald Trump’s nomination of conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in 2020 because the ruling party in the Senate was the same party as the president. That contradicts his justification for blocking Obama’s nomination in 2016, which at the time he claimed was about checks and balances.
As Democrats and progressives have pointed out, these explanations are a farce. McConnell’s true motives are clear: he will manipulate the rules of Congress as much as he can to keep his party in power and use that power to extend the GOP’s influence wherever possible. This is made clear, political commentators say, by the inherent hypocrisy of his actions.
“Mitch McConnell blocked Merrick Garland 8 months before [the 2016] election but confirmed Amy Coney Barrett 8 days before [the 2020] election when 65 million had already voted,” wrote Mother Jones’s Ari Berman on Twitter. “And now he’s saying he’d do it again.”
McConnell’s comments add fuel to the fire for progressives and Democrats who are beginning to call for liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, who is 82, to retire so that Democrats can replace him while they have a majority.
McConnell’s comments are also fueling yet more calls for Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and other like-minded centrist Democrats to support abolishing the filibuster in order to advance the Democratic agenda to stop McConnell from implementing minority rule, as he’s threatening to do — and currently doing with the help of the centrist Democrats.
Progressives are frustrated with Democrats for failing to use their majority in Congress, saying that it’s time for them to retaliate against Republicans. “This is what it looks like when you understand the rules of the game,” said reporter Eoin Higgins on Twitter,” in response to McConnell’s Monday statements. “McConnell is playing the game by the rules. Schumer et al just don’t get it. It’s that simple.”
Political reporter for NBC Sahil Kapur explained that, indeed, Democrats often capitulate to Republican demands while the GOP just plays hardball and forces its proposals through. “The way to understand Mitch McConnell’s actions on blocking Garland in ‘16, to reversing that standard for Barrett in ‘20, to suggesting he’d block Biden in ‘23/‘24: He is betting that Democrats won’t do anything to retaliate when they have power. So far that bet is paying off,” tweeted Kapur.
But progressives in office and in advocacy have recognized this pattern and have been using their limited but growing power to fight back. Progressive and Democratic lawmakers are encouraging the party to play by the rules and expand the Supreme Court, which Congress is allowed to do. Lawmakers have introduced legislation to expand the Supreme Court by four seats for a total of 13, which the bill’s sponsors say are an effort to “unpack” the institution.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), one of the bill’s sponsors, tweeted on Monday that the expansion is necessary to combat partisan manipulation by Republicans over the years. “Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court.”
Meanwhile, people like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) are warning Democrats: if they spend too long trying to work across the aisle with people like McConnell who are only interested in obstruction and manipulation, they could end up losing seats and risking their majority in 2022. That could happen either because the public gets fed up with the party, he says, or because Republicans pass enough voter suppression bills that the Democrats become a “permanent minority party.”