Apr 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dems seek to preempt McConnell SCOTUS blockade

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seen being interviewed by Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is interviewed by Axios' Jonathan Swan. Photo: Chuck Kennedy/Axios

Democrats are discussing how they might preempt Republican efforts to block President Biden from filling a Supreme Court vacancy should the GOP regain the Senate in the midterms.

Why it matters: While Democrats succeeded in getting Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to commit during an Axios interview to filling any more seats if he becomes majority leader next year.

Driving the news: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told Axios he's "talking with a number of my [Republican] colleagues about how we prevent" a nominee from being denied hearings.

  • The discussions are very preliminary, Axios was told, and would only carry real weight in the highly unlikely event McConnell himself signed on.
  • The harsh reality is Democrats would lack any clear options to force votes on Biden nominees in a GOP-led Senate, barring a critical mass of Republicans placing pressure on McConnell to do so.
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he wants an "improved process" but conceded they would "have to get enough [senators] to agree, 'This will be the process.'"

Some progressive Democrats said their party needs to get aggressive.

They argued for statutory solutions to what they see as an erosion of institutional norms.

Any changes would be a long shot with narrow congressional majorities for either party — including the current 50-50 Senate.

What they're saying: "I'm certain that the Republicans, if they had a majority, are going to try to block key appointments," Kaine told Axios.

He also predicted the opposition won't be limited to Supreme Court nominees.

  • "Oh, that's so wrong," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said of McConnell's comments. "I think that's our responsibility. We take an oath of office to do our job. ... I just hope he doesn't mean that."

The other side: Most Republican senators who spoke to Axios either declined to weigh in or endorsed McConnell's unwillingness to discuss hypotheticals.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) dismissed "highly speculative" questions about future nominees: "I think the best thing to do is just make no commitments about anything."
  • "To me, you have to wait and see," said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). "You can't predict the future. You're asking something that's a hypothesis, so to speak."

Other Republicans went a step further than McConnell's non-committal answers— arguing Republicans should wield all the power at their disposal.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the GOP "should not confirm a radical leftist to the Supreme Court," predicting a Republican majority would have a "moderating effect" on Biden's nominees.
  • "That's where we'll start," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of Cruz's comments. "The bottom line is it will be a negotiation."
  • "It's always been the case that the majority decides what comes to the floor."
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