McConnell Says ‘We’d Fill It’ If Supreme Court Vacancy Opened in 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Tuesday that Republicans would fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020 should one open.

McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term in 2020, addressed the Paducah Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky, where he was asked by an attendee, "Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?"

After taking a sip of iced tea, McConnell smiled and said, "Oh, we'd fill it," triggering laughter in the audience. The remarks were first reported by CNN.

McConnell called the confirming of President Donald Trump's federal judge nominees, which has happened at a breakneck pace under his Senate leadership, the most significant thing he's done.

"The reason I started with the judges, as important as all these other things are that we're talking about, if you want to have a long-lasting, positive impact on the country—everything else changes," he said, pointing to things that could be undone in another election like Republican tax reform. "What can't be undone is a lifetime appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of a judge is to follow the law."

In 2016, McConnell successfully blocked President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland from getting a hearing and vote after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The decision still infuriates liberals, with some calling for the next Democratic president to pack the Supreme Court in response to McConnell's tactic.

"The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration," McConnell said at the time. "The next president may also nominate somebody very different. Either way, our view is this. Give the people a voice in filling this vacancy."

McConnell cited "The Biden Rule," quoting then-Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Joe Biden's words in 1992 that President George H.W. Bush should not name a Supreme Court nominee until after the election that year, should a vacancy arise.

McConnell's decision proved fateful for Republicans, as Trump went on to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump ultimately nominated Neil Gorsuch in 2017 for the seat that had been left open for a year, and the Senate narrowly confirmed him thanks to its Republican majority.

A McConnell spokesman told CNN the situation was different than in 2016 because now the Senate and White House are both in Republican hands.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) tweeted McConnell was a hypocrite.