Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that the Supreme Court vacancy gives President Biden a new chance to make good on his promise to be an uniter for the country.
Speaking after Justice Stephen G. Breyer formally announced his retirement at the White House, Mr. McConnell pointed to the evenly divided Senate, which must confirm any Biden nominee, and said the president should respect that divide.
“The president must not outsource this important decision to the radical left,” the Kentucky Republican said. “The American people deserve a nominee with demonstrated reverence for the written text of our laws and our Constitution.”
Mr. McConnell was always going to be the most important Republican in the looming confirmation battle, but he‘s achieved mythic status after orchestrating three successful Supreme Court nominations for President Trump.
That was while the GOP helps the majority. Now in the minority, Republicans have less power to shape the outcome.
Mr. McConnell‘s statement reflected that reality, seeking to harness public pressure to push Mr. Biden away from more ideologically extreme nominees.
“Looking ahead — the American people elected a Senate that is evenly split at 50-50. To the degree that President Biden received a mandate, it was to govern from the middle, steward our institutions, and unite America,” Mr. McConnell said.
Liberal activists and some Democratic senators are still reeling from how Mr. McConnell outmaneuvered them over the past six years.
In 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died, Mr. McConnell declared the Senate would not consider any nominee until after voters had a say on the new president in November.
Despite intense pressure, he bottled up President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, in committee.
Mr. Trump then stunned Washington with his victory over Hillary Clinton, and named the first of his three justices.
Even though he’s now in the minority, thanks to the overtime losses in Georgia’s two Senate races last year, Mr. McConnell still scared liberal activists.
“Mitch McConnell will try to steal another Supreme Court seat,” blared the headline of the email MoveOn.org sent to supporters Thursday.
The group postulated a scenario in which Mr. McConnell would try to delay action on a Biden pick until after November’s elections, when the GOP hopes to retake control of the Senate.
“And if they do, make no mistake that McConnell will hold that seat open for two years until after the 2024 presidential election. If he succeeds, Donald Trump could install his fourth justice to the Supreme Court,” MoveOn said.
Mr. Biden had promised to name a history-making Black woman to the bench, and the White House says he stands by that vow.
Analysts say the Black women already serving on the federal courts that Mr. Biden might reasonably consider all tilt significantly to the left.
Republican senators contrasted those possibilities with Justice Breyer, confirmed in 1994 on an 87-9 vote.
Mr. McConnell, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the three current Republicans who were in the chamber in 1994, all voted for Justice Breyer’s confirmation.
Mr. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he’d like to see Mr. Biden pick a consensus nominee like that.
“Justice Breyer’s successor should be an individual within the legal mainstream who can receive similar broad, bipartisan support,” he said. “Such a candidate will preserve faith in the court, and reflect Americans’ will when they elected an evenly divided Senate.”