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Graham on potential Supreme Court vacancy: 'This would be a different circumstance' than Merrick Garland

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg Murkowski predicts Barrett won't overturn Roe v. Wade Biden seeks to close any path for Trump win in race's final days MORE (R-S.C.) said the Senate would work to confirm a Supreme Court nominee this year if a vacancy arises, saying the circumstances are different from 2016, when Republicans blocked then-President Obama’s nomination of Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandBarrett sworn in as Supreme Court justice by Thomas Democrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Roberts to administer judicial oath to Barrett Tuesday MORE

Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that both the Senate and the White House are held by Republicans, versus in 2016, when the GOP-held Senate denied Garland a hearing.

“Well, Merrick Garland was a different situation. You had the president of one party nominating, and you had the Senate in the hands of the other party. A situation where you've got them both would be different. I don't want to speculate, but I think appointing judges is a high priority for me in 2020,” Graham said in an interview on “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” set to air Sunday. 

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"If you look into the history of the country, there had not been an occasion where somebody was confirmed in a presidential election year after primary started when you had divided government," he added.

Senate Republicans have made confirming President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE’s judicial nominees a top priority, sending his picks to federal judgeships at a record clip, something Trump often touts during his campaign rallies.

Judicial nominations have become a chief partisan issue in the Senate in recent years. Democrats went “nuclear” to scrap the 60-vote filibuster for most judicial picks and all executive nominations, with Republicans nixing the same rule for Supreme Court picks in 2017. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote Democrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg MORE (R-Ky.), who has largely steered the GOP’s efforts to confirm judges, has also said the Senate would consider nominations to the Supreme Court this year. 

“As soon as we get back in session, we’ll start confirming judges again. We need to have hearings, and we need to confirm judges. ... The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal,” McConnell said last month. “My motto for the year is leave no vacancy behind. That hasn’t changed.”

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The comments have led to outcries from Democrats that Republicans are violating the example they set in 2016 by not considering a Supreme Court nomination in an election year, though Republicans said there had been a longstanding precedent already in place.

Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Trump campaign eyes election night party at his sold-out DC hotel Harris blasts GOP for confirming Amy Coney Barrett: 'We won't forget this' MORE urged President Bush 41 not to appoint somebody in the election year. So we call that the Biden Rule, but this would be a different circumstance,” Graham said.

However, the comments mark a reversal from Graham, who in 2018 said no nominations would be considered in 2020. 

“If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term and the primary process is started, we’ll wait for the next election,” Graham said at the time.