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

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen GOP senator questions constitutionality of an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office Graham pushes Schumer for vote to dismiss impeachment article 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 GarlandBiden's new challenge: Holding Trump accountable Graham says he'll back Biden's CIA pick A Democratic agenda for impossibly hard times 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 TrumpLil Wayne gets 11th hour Trump pardon Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports 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 McConnellTrump has talked to associates about forming new political party: report McConnell, Schumer fail to cut power-sharing deal amid filibuster snag McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment 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 BidenTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Scalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration Sidney Powell withdraws 'kraken' lawsuit in Georgia 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.