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Here's what Mitch McConnell said about not filing a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year

Ginsburg's death jolts 2020 election
Ginsburg's death jolts 2020 election 05:48

Just hours after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said President Trump's nominee to replace her "will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate." But four years ago, when Justice Antonin Scalia died in an election year, McConnell repeatedly argued against even holding a hearing for a replacement. 

The Kentucky Republican notoriously refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, who then-President Barack Obama chose to fill Scalia's seat eight months before the election. McConnell's block left the Supreme Court with an empty sear for more than a year, until Mr. Trump's nominee Neil Gorsuch was sworn in.

In 2016, McConnell consistently made one argument for not filling the seat: It was an election year, and voters should decide which presidential candidate should pick the next justice.

Other Senate Republicans followed suit. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said weeks after Scalia's death: "I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, 'Lindsey Graham said let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination."

There were some differences between now and then. Mr. Obama was in the final year of his presidency, whereas President Trump has a chance for a second term. And Obama was a Democrat, while the Senate that needed to confirm his nominee was controlled by the GOP.

McConnell, at times, pointed to both of these facts when refusing to give Garland a hearing. But he also consistently argued that "the people" of the United States should decide to fills the court's vacancy — an argument he isn't making now.

Here's what McConnell said in 2016:

February 13, statement on the day of Scalia's death: "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."

February 16, Washington Post op-ed with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa: "Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. It is today the American people, rather than a lame-duck president whose priorities and policies they just rejected in the most-recent national election, who should be afforded the opportunity to replace Justice Scalia."

February 22, press statement: "[W]hile finding the right person to take the seat [Scalia] occupied will clearly be a monumental task, it's one we think the American people are more than equipped to tackle. Some disagree and would rather the Senate simply push through yet another lifetime appointment from a president who's on his way out the door...I believe that it is today the American people who are best-positioned to help make this important decision."

February 23, Senate floor speech: "The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter after the American people finish making in November the decision they've already started making today....[Mr. Obama] could let the people decide and make this an actual legacy-building moment, rather than just another campaign roadshow."

February 23, press conference: "The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let's give them a voice. Let's let the American people decide. The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be."

March 16, Senate floor speech after Mr. Obama nominated Garland: "The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration. The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice."

March 20, "Fox News Sunday" interview: "We think the important principle in the middle of this presidential election, which is raging, is that American people need to weigh in and decide who's going to make this decision."

March 20, "Meet the Press" interview: "The American people are about to weigh in on who is going to be the president. And that's the person, whoever that may be, who ought to be making this appointment."

August 6, speech to supporters in Kentucky: "One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, 'Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.'"

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