Yesterday, I sat down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for an exclusive interview on the Guy Benson Show. If you've followed my work here, it will come as no surprise that much of our conversation centered around McConnell's pivotal role in reshaping the federal judiciary during the Trump presidency. After having some fun with his slew of dramatic nicknames -- including the "Grim Reaper" moniker he bestowed upon himself -- I asked him to defend his recently-articulated stance that the GOP Senate majority would move to fill a hypothetical Supreme Court vacancy, if one were to arise next year. Back in 2016, McConnell famously refused to consider President Obama's high court nominee to replace Justice Scalia, arguing that the American people deserved to choose the next president first. So why wouldn't seating a new justice in 2020 represent an epic flip flop on this front? Listen to his reply (toggle forward to the 1:20 mark):
MCCONNELL: They're conveniently cherry picking what I said in 2016 what I pointed out was that you'd have to go back to the eighteen eighties to find the last time a Senate controlled by a different party than the president filled a vacancy on the Supreme Court created in the middle of a presidential election. I said it then. I've said it repeatedly and I was shocked that this seemed like news. And next year there will be a Republican Senate and a Republican president. I have no idea whether there will be a Supreme Court vacancy knowing how the left of center members of the Supreme Court feel about the president United States. I think it would take a significant life ending event to create such a vacancy...So yeah we would fill a vacancy that occurred.
BENSON: So the difference is the party control --
MCCONNELL: Yeah because the Constitution is quite clear that only the president doesn't have an exclusive on Supreme Court appointments. There are two roles he gets to pick. We get to decide whether to go forward. We have every bit a right to assert ourselves as he does to assert himself. And so we have a constitutional role. It's been there since the Constitution was written and we would fully exercise it next year.
McConnell also referred to 2020 candidates' various proposals to expand or pack the Supreme Court as a "genuine threat," warning that a future united Democratic government could fundamentally alter the country's constitutional and ideological order. In addition to rehearsing the other party's history of unilateral power grabs in the judicial confirmation wars, McConnell said that his counterpart across the aisle, Chuck Schumer, committed a tactical error in 2017 by lacking the "courage to stand up to his left" flank in resisting the ill-fated decision to mount a partisan filibuster against Justice Gorsuch's nomination -- thus clearing the path for McConnell to invoke the Reid Rule. He also added another dig at Schumer:
No judge was ever defeated with a filibuster until [after] the year 2000 when George W. Bush was elected. No cabinet member ever been defeated by a filibuster. This is a recent invention and the guy who started it was Chuck Schumer, so it was kind of fun to watch him squirm frankly because he started this whole battle and we ended it. And right now where we are Guy is we're back where we were until Bush 43 got elected executive calendars done with a simple majority and I think it's the right thing for the institution -- and I'm sure it will benefit [the Democrats, in the future] you know.
As for upcoming legislation, McConnell said House Democrats' newly-passed standalone DREAM Act will "probably not" get an up-or-down vote in the Senate, explaining that while he's strongly sympathetic to the cause of normalizing DREAMers' legal status, such an action should be paired with border enforcement measures. He also called on Democrats to heed both President Trump and the New York Times' call to approve humanitarian aid funding to help alleviate the crisis on the Southern border. The majority leader also indicated an openness to Sen. Graham's legislation to reform US asylum laws and practices. On the president's threatened tariffs against Mexico (is this an off-ramp?), McConnell said there's a "lack of enthusiasm" among Senate Republicans for this potential policy, sidestepping the question of whether reports of an emerging veto-proof majority coalition on this issue are true:
BENSON: President's now linking the border crisis with trade policy threatening tariffs on Mexico. There are reports that there might be an emerging bipartisan veto proof majority to undo those tariffs should they be implemented based on what you're seeing from your caucus. Is that true?
MCCONNELL: Let me just say there is a lack of enthusiasm among Senate Republicans for what would amount to a tax increase frankly on working class people. I mean drives up the cost of goods that you would be purchasing at Walmart other places. So I'm hoping this can be avoided. There's a Mexican delegation in town as you and I are speaking trying to see if they can reach some agreement to do a better job of keeping folks most of these people who were coming up or coming from Central America not from Mexico and they're traversing the entire of Mexico that the Mexicans could do a better job of preventing them from crossing the border in the southern part of Mexico and also try to enhance their effort on the border. Maybe all of this can be averted.
Finally, on Democrats' treatment of Attorney General Bill Barr, including a planned contempt vote in the House, McConnell praised Barr (he's "doing a great job") and slammed Democrats' inability to 'let go' of the Russia issue. He reiterated his position that on collusion, "the case is closed:"
The only objective investigation with the Mueller Report. You know the public knows there's not going to be an objective investigation in Congress. Each side will try to politicize it. They need to let it go. I mean I think that the reason the speaker is so reluctant to see them go down the impeachment path is that the American people are not interested in it. If you've got a grievance with Donald Trump you've got a vote coming up next year. Why would we need to in effect veto the election the American people conducted in 2016 that legitimately elected him?
Our full interview is available HERE.
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