McConnell, Schumer, Trade Barbs Over GOP Plans to Rush Ginsburg’s Replacement

September 22, 2020 by Dan McCue
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., departs the chamber after speaking about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is refusing to back down from what is sure to be an intense fight over who will fill the Supreme Court seat now vacant after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In his first remarks from the Senate floor since Ginsburg’s death on Friday, McConnell insisted there is “more than enough time” between now and the seating of a new Congress in January to confirm President Donald Trump’s as-yet unnamed nominee.

McConnell went on to throw down the gauntlet presaging the coming battle, saying, “Already, some of the same individuals who tried every conceivable dirty trick to obstruct Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh are lining up to proclaim the third time will be the charm.

“The American people are about to witness an astonishing parade of misrepresentations about the past, misstatements about the present, and more threats against our institutions from the same people who have already been saying for months that they want to pack the court.”

Recalling the scalding confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in which the nominee was accused of sexual assault while attending college, McConnell said “a radical movement” had tried to use “unproven accusations to ruin a man’s life” two years ago, and “they appear to be readying an even more appalling sequel.

“This time, the target will not just be the presumption of innocence for one American, but our very governing institutions themselves,” he said.

McConnell’s remarks Monday came shortly after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, sent a letter to committee Democrats regarding the Supreme Court vacancy.

“When the American people elected a Republican Senate majority in 2014, Americans did so because we committed to checking and balancing the end of President Obama’s lame duck presidency,” Graham wrote. “We did so. We followed the precedent that the Senate has followed for 140 years: since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee during an election year.”

Like McConnell, Graham also brought up Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, which he said changed his personal view of the judicial confirmation process.

“Compare the treatment of Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh to that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, and it’s clear that there already is one set of rules for a Republican president and one set of rules for a Democrat president,” Graham said.

“I therefore think it is important that we proceed expeditiously to process any nomination made by President Trump to fill this vacancy. I am certain if the shoe were on the other foot, you would do the same,” he added.

What neither McConnell or Graham mentioned was the level of bipartisanship that used to exist when it came to past Supreme Court nominations.

Ginsburg herself was confirmed in 1993 by a vote of 96-3. And not only did McConnell vote in her favor, so did the hardcore conservative Sen. Strom Thurmond.

And bipartisanship went both ways.

When Antonin Scalia was confirmed in 1986, he was voted onto the high court 98-0, with his supporters including Sens. Ted Kennedy, Al Gore and Joe Biden.

More recently, Elena Kagan’s nomination was affirmed by a 63-37 vote in 2020, with five Republicans voting in her favor — Including Sen. Graham, and Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination was affirmed by a 68-31 vote, with nine Republicans voting for her.

Of course, Graham is right in recalling the battle over the nomination of Robert Bork as being any but collegial. Democrats objected to Bork’s inflammatory writings and views, and maintained that President Ronald Reagan had nominated him merely to provoke their ire.

Republicans countered by arguing that if his nomination were voted down, it’d be the first time a nominee was rejected for his personal opinions rather than his qualifications or lack thereof.

In the end, Bork’s nomination went down to defeat, 58-42.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., responded to McConnell on the Senate floor by recalling Ginsburg’s last days.

“Sensing her failing health, Justice Ginsburg told her family that it was her ‘most fervent wish’ that she not be replaced until the new president is installed.”

“That was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish, or most fervent wish, that she should not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Schumer said. “The Republican Senate majority should have no problem adhering to Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish.

“Leader McConnell held the previous Supreme Court vacancy open for nearly a year in order to give the people a voice in selecting a Supreme Court justice,” he continued. “I just heard the remarks of the Republican leader, and it’s obvious why he is so defensive.

“This is what the Leader McConnell said in 2016, mere hours after the death of Justice [Antonin] Scalia, ‘The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy shall not be filled until we have a new president.’

“No amount of sophistry can change what McConnell said then, and it applies even more so now,” Schumer said. “More so, because we are so much closer to an election. In an op- ed on Feb. 18, 2016, with Sen. Grassley, Leader McConnell wrote, ‘Given that we are in the midst of a presidential election process, we believe the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in, on whom they trust to nominate as the next person for a lifetime appointment to the court.’”

During his remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell sought to debunk assertions that the Senate did not have sufficient time left before the end of the year to examine and confirm a nominee.

“As of today, there are 43 days until November 3rd and 104 days until the end of this Congress,” McConnell said.

“The late, iconic Justice John Paul Stevens was confirmed by the Senate 19 days after this body formally received his nomination. Nineteen days from start to finish,” he continued.

“Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, another iconic jurist, was confirmed 33 days after her nomination. For the late Justice Ginsburg herself, it was just 42 days.

“Justice Stevens’ entire confirmation process could have played out twice between now and November 3rd — with time to spare. And Justice Ginsburg herself could have been confirmed twice between now and the end of the year — with time to spare,” McConnell said.

“The Senate has more than sufficient time to process a nomination. History and precedent make that perfectly clear,” he added.

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