Mar 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

How Mitch McConnell sees the Ketanji Brown Jackson "battle"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seen shaking hands with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during a visit to his office.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on March 2. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

For Mitch McConnell — a man who has fought for decades to remake the American courts — the battle to confirm Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is hardly a battle at all.

Why it matters: The way the Senate minority leader sees it, according to conversations with those familiar with his thinking, this is a low-stakes confirmation: Jackson would be one liberal justice replacing another liberal justice. Her confirmation won't upset the court's conservative control.

  • McConnell knows that unless Jackson screws up royally under senatorial questioning beginning Tuesday — an unlikely prospect given how deftly she has historically handled dangerous hypotheticals — he doesn't have the votes to stop her. Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 Senate.
  • Allies of McConnell say the low stakes provide an opportunity to treat Jackson respectfully. He wants to use that as a contrast to what Republicans say was the "circus" atmosphere of the Democrats' efforts to block the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, amid sexual assault claims he denied.
  • Asked for comment, a McConnell spokesman pointed Axios to his previous public comments about President Biden’s nominee.

Between the lines: Allies say McConnell is keenly aware of the potentially ugly spectacle of Republicans going rhetorically overboard in a futile mission to destroy what would be the first African American woman associate justice of the Supreme Court.

  • McConnell has signaled through his own public statements that he wants his colleagues to avoid suggesting the Harvard and Harvard Law graduate might not have the credentials or the intellect to serve on the court.
  • You will never hear McConnell echo the top-rated Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, who said: "It might be time for Joe Biden to let us know what Ketanji Brown Jackson’s LSAT score was."
  • McConnell has said repeatedly that Jackson is qualified, even as he's signaled with other comments he won't vote for her. McConnell has said he was disappointed she didn't follow his suggestion to come out against court-packing — a subject that would be decided solely by the president and Congress.

Yes, but: This doesn't mean Republicans across McConnell's conference plan to handle Jackson with kid gloves. Nor does it mean they won't try to mar her historic nomination with some attacks geared toward this fall's midterm elections.

McConnell has previewed several tough lines of GOP questioning.

  • He's sought to frame her as a proxy of left-wing interest groups — pointing to the enthusiastic reception she's received from some leaders in the progressive legal community.
  • McConnell's also homed in on a theme Republicans plan to hammer in the run-up to the midterms: the surge in violent crime across America.
  • McConnell suggested, in remarks on the Senate floor, that Jackson's background as a criminal defense lawyer might "tilt her judgment in favor of convicts."
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