Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Wednesday said he would be willing to fill a potential vacancy should one arise on the Supreme Court, CNN reported. The admission is a stark contrast to what he said back in 2016 when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland following Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February 2016.
McConnell was asked the question during the Paducah Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky.
"Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?" an attendee asked.
"Oh, we'd fill it," he said with a smile as the audience laughed. "We'll see whether there's a vacancy in 2020."
According to McConnell's spokesman, David Popp, the difference between 2016 and 2020 is this: back in 2016 Democrats held the White House and Republicans held the Senate. Right now Republicans hold both the White House and the Senate.
"The American people? should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President," McConnell said in a statement hours after Scalia died in February 2016.
During a March 2016 interview on Fox News, McConnell said Republicans were "following a long-standing tradition of not filling vacancies on the Supreme Court in the middle of a presidential election year." During a floor speech weeks before he said it had been 130 years since "a nominee was confirmed in similar circumstances," referring to divided government, The Hill reported.
McConnell has made it a priority to confirm President Donald Trump's judicial nominations in hopes of having a lasting impact on the nation. With 53 Republicans in the Senate, they're able to confirm judges despite Democrats' objection.
"I remember during the tax bill, people were agonizing over whether one part of the tax bill was permanent or not. I said, 'Look, the only way the tax bill is permanent depends on the next election,' " McConnell said. "Because people have different views about taxes in the two parties and they approach it differently when they get in power."
"What can't be undone is a life time appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of the judge is to follow the law," he explained "That's the most important thing we've done in the country, which cannot be undone."