CNN Airs Segment Falsely Assuming McConnell Was Wrong on Facts in CBS Interview

McConnell disagreed with CBS host John Dickerson about 1956 SCOTUS appointment (Updated)

October 8, 2018

CNN ignored a lot of history Monday morning in a segment where an entire panel of analysts and hosts assumed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) was wrong on the history of Supreme Court confirmations.

CNN aired a segment on the assumption that McConnell was refuted when he claimed the 19th Century was the last time a Supreme Court vacancy during an election year saw a justice confirmed by a Senate of the opposing party. CBS anchor John Dickerson attempted to correct him with the counterexample of Justice William Brennan, who in 1956 was appointed in recess and confirmed by the Senate in 1957—after Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower won reelection. The vacancy was created after Justice Sherman Minton's retirement during a congressional recess in September 1956.

Dickerson initially admitted McConnell was correct on Twitter.

"[McConnell and I] had a disagreement about 1956. He said, since 1880, no SCOTUS nominee had been named & confirmed in an election year when the president and Congress were in opposite parties. I said in 1956 Ike (R) nominated Brennan. Democrats controlled the Senate," Dickerson tweeted after his interview with McConnell aired. "But Brennan was a recess apointment [sic] in ‘56 not confirmed by Democrats ‘till ‘57. McConnell: correct!"

Dickerson emailed the Washington Free Beacon Tuesday morning to say he is reversing his initial self-correction because the Brennan example technically fits McConnell’s criteria of being appointed "to a vacancy created in the middle of a presidential election" and confirmed by "a Senate controlled by a different party from the president." Dickerson maintains that McConnell was not explicitly talking about appointments during the election year because the Senate majority leader technically only mentioned vacancies that opened during the election year.

That "the confirmation also happened in an election year...may have been on his mind, but it’s not what he said," Dickerson wrote about McConnell in his email.

McConnell’s office directed the Free Beacon to a Washington Post fact-check of this issue from 2016. Republicans have dismissed the Brennan counterexample because Brennan's confirmation occurred in 1957 after Eisenhower was re-elected.

Taylor Foy, press secretary for the judiciary committee, says the GOP letter is accurate because Brennan was neither nominated by the president nor considered by the Senate during the 1956 presidential election year: "He was recess appointed. A freshly re-elected President Eisenhower submitted William Brennan’s nomination to the Senate in January of 1957, a hearing was held, and Brennan was eventually confirmed in March of 1957—all of which occurred following the presidential election in 1956."

(It should be noted that, while no one brought this up, McConnell and Dickerson were actually referring to 1888, which he has spoken of in the past, but he apparently misspoke this time by saying 1880.)

However, CNN aired an entire segment Monday under the assumption that Dickerson had totally refuted McConnell, and no one pushed back. CNN anchor and former Obama official Jim Sciutto confidently asserted McConnell was in error, quoting former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., Okla.) to co-host Poppy Harlow.

"You can't help but remember, Poppy, the Daniel Moynihan quote: ‘You're entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts,’" Sciutto said.

"But not your own facts," Harlow repeated.

The hosts turned to left-wing commentator and former Bernie Sanders press secretary Symone Sanders for analysis, who laughed at McConnell.

"I'm one who believes we have to continuously point out the facts because facts still matter regardless of what Mitch McConnell or the president says," Sanders said.

Noelle Nikpour, a Republican strategist, did not appear to know the facts either. She conceded McConnell may be "wrong" but argued it did not matter for the midterm elections.

Some have argued McConnell was still wrong because Democrats did vote for Brennan, just after the election, and McConnell did not technically account for the fact that the seat had opened up during the election year of 1956. That does not match the situation McConnell was defending, however, since a Democrat was not elected or reelected in 2016 the way Eisenhower was reelected in 1956. The comparison might be apt had Democrats defeated Eisenhower but then magnanimously chose to confirm his nominee anyway, but in fact Eisenhower won a decisive victory over Adlai Stevenson and only afterward saw his nominee confirmed.

No one on CNN explained these historical facts in the segment, but later in the day "Inside Politics' host John King did admit, "McConnell is right on the details." King did not address his colleagues getting the facts wrong earlier in the day.

In 2016, President Donald Trump defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, leading to his appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch.

UPDATE 12:52 p.m.: This post has been updated to include John King's comments.

UPDATE Oct. 9 at 11:03 a.m.: This post has been updated with comment from Dickerson and McConnell's office.