On May 28, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted what we already knew: The reason he gave for blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court was a lie. As reported by CNN:
Speaking at a Paducah Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky, McConnell was asked by an attendee, “Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?”
The leader took a long sip of what appeared to be iced tea before announcing with a smile, “Oh, we’d fill it,” triggering loud laughter from the audience.
A smile. Laughter. That kind of smugness only comes when you get away with outrage after outrage, year after year, with impunity. It comes when you’ve eliminated so many democratic norms, installed so many effective voter suppression schemes, and undermined so many constitutional safety mechanisms that you no longer worry about electoral accountability.
When media reported on McConnell’s statement, his spokespeople scrambled to come up with some explanation as to why 2020 would be different from 2016. But in 2016, McConnell gave one reason — and one reason only — for blocking Garland: That an election-year vacancy should be left unfilled until the winner of the presidential election could fill it. Republican senators like Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham followed their party leader.
Their unprecedented violation of a constitutional norm caused great damage to our democratic system, but it paid off for those who were more interested in amassing and holding on to power. Republicans successfully stole a Supreme Court seat, and McConnell even took a victory lap with Neil Gorsuch after his confirmation. Since then, they have populated our nation’s lower courts with narrow-minded elitists who are far more likely to help the rich and powerful than to protect us, our Constitution, and our laws.
The majority leader’s brazen admission yesterday and the chilling response from the audience — laughter — speaks volumes about the ailing state of our democracy. It is also a reminder of the importance of who controls the Senate.