McConnell suggests Senate will not consider any Biden Supreme Court nominee if GOP wins in 2022

"I think it's highly unlikely," McConnell said of a GOP-led Senate confirming a Biden nominee before 2024 election

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published June 14, 2021 2:33PM (EDT)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated on Monday that he would refuse to consider any Supreme Court nomination made by President Biden if the GOP reclaims control over the Senate next year. 

"I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled. So I think it's highly unlikely," McConnell told right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt. "I don't think either party, if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election."

Last year, McConnell and other Republicans flouted the Thurmond rule, when they openly rushed to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, whose seat would later be taken by Justice Amy Coney Barrett – a Trump-appointed Catholic conservative – along a 52-48 Senate vote. 

The Thurmond rule is an informal dictum in politics that a Supreme Court justice should not be nominated during an election year – the logic being that voters should have the primary say in who should be added to the bench. 

McConnell did not provide any moral or legal defense of his decision to fill Ginsberg's vacancy. He instead suggested that the move was made purely along strategic lines.

 "What was different in 2020 was we were of the same party as the president," he insisted. He argued that blocking the Supreme Court confirmation of Merrick Garland, since appointed Attorney General by Joe Biden, was the "the single most consequential thing I've done in my time as majority leader of the Senate."

McConnell took a victory lap for his 2016 power move: "I preserved the Scalia vacancy for the Gorsuch appointment."

Asked if he'd support the confirmation of "normal mainstream liberal" if a spot on the bench presents itself in 2023, McConnell did little to rule out a GOP path of sabotage. "Well, we'd have to wait and see what happens," the Kentucky senator slyly responded. 

McConnell's remarks come as the 2022 Senate races come into greater focus and the Senate currently at an even 50-50 split. At least 20 Republican seats are up for grabs, while Democrats are defending only 14. 

Progressives have meanwhile vocalized strong support for the retirement of liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest sitting justice on the bench in the next several weeks. Progressives fear that if Breyer, who is 82, happens to pass away after the GOP reclaims the Senate, Republicans will be able to block any liberal appointee from filling his vacancy. McConnell's comments on Monday seemed to confirm such fears.  

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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Brief Elections 2022 Elections 2024 Gop Joe Biden Mitch Mcconnell Republicans Senate Supreme Court