Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who famously refused to give the last Democratic Supreme Court nominee a Senate hearing or vote, on Thursday said he’s ready to give President Biden’s pick to the high court “a fair look.”
While some conservatives are already taking shots at Biden for pledging to consider only a Black woman to replace retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, McConnell is keeping his powder dry until the nominee is known.
“I’m going to give the president’s nominee, whoever that may be, a fair look and to not predict,” he told reporters during an event in Mayfield, Kentucky.
“We don’t even know who the nominee is,” he said.
McConnell has been a leading opponent and critic of much of President Biden’s agenda, which he has called “radical” and “reckless,” especially Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending plans.
But McConnell has also taken pains to work with the president on some issues, countering Democratic claims that he is a knee-jerk obstructionist.
He voted for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Biden touted as a major accomplishment. And he worked out a deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to change the Senate rules temporarily to allow Democrats to raise the debt limit on a party-line vote.
Now McConnell is trying to turn down the temperature on the discussion of the Supreme Court, mindful that liberal activists are pressing Biden to add more justices to balance the current 6-3 conservative majority.
McConnell on Thursday praised Breyer, who is considered the leading liberal on today’s court, for opposing the idea of adding more justices.
“He had a very distinguished career, one of the most respected members of the Supreme Court in history. And one of the things I liked about him was he was a vigorous opponent of packing the court, that is adding members of the court to try to take advantage of some short-term political gain,” he said.
“I’ll be taking a look at that nominee as part of the confirmation process and making a decision later based upon who the nominee is,” he added.
McConnell is expected to vote against Biden’s nominee and he’s already on the record as opposing the three Black women that Biden nominated to various circuit-court seats earlier in the Congress.
He and most Republicans voted against D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were the only Republicans to vote for them.
Brown Jackson is considered a leading candidate for the Supreme Court nod and Jackson-Akiwumi has also been floated as a candidate.
McConnell and every other Republican who voted also opposed Biden’s pick for the 2nd Circuit Court, Eunice Lee, another potential pick.
Other Republicans have come out with measured statements in response to news of Breyer’s impending retirement.
Graham on Wednesday praised Breyer as “a scholar and a gentleman” even though his record “is solidly in the liberal camp.”
Graham, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, reminded conservative allies that Senate Republicans on their own cannot block Biden’s nominee.
“If all Democrats hang together – which I expect they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support,” he said.
McConnell in recent months has tried to counter the arguments by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and other Democrats that the Supreme Court has become politicized and needs reforming.
The GOP leader on Thursday argued that the court is supposed to be nonpolitical and praised Breyer as someone who shared that view.
He drew a comparison between calls to pack the Supreme Court to counter the conservative majority and the recent push by liberals to change the Senate’s filibuster rule to enact election reform and voting rights legislation.
“One of the thing I really admired about Justice Breyer is that he believed in the institution, believed that it was apolitical and there’s no way to interpret court packing other than trying to get a political outcome out of a body that’s supposed to be completely independent,” he said.