In an interview Thursday ahead of the historic Supreme Court confirmation vote for Ketanji Brown Jackson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would not commit to hearings for a potential high court nominee put forward by President Joe Biden in 2023.
“Most hypotheticals I don’t answer, and I think that whole question puts the cart before the horse,” McConnell told Axios’ Jonathan Swan in a wide-ranging conversation Thursday. “We’re hoping to get into the majority as a result of this year’s [midterm] election.”
“What I can tell you for sure: If the House and Senate are Republican next year, the president will finally be the moderate he campaigned as,” McConnell said, before referencing bipartisan agreements on the president’s infrastructure bill and the postal reform bill.
That said, McConnell refused to answer specifically about future Supreme Court picks, despite repeated questioning from Swan.
“I'll be interested in working with the president when he's willing to be a moderate, but with regards to personnel, and the other things that we're involved in, I'm not going to signal how we're going to approach it,” McConnell said.
Earlier this week, the Kentucky Republican made similar remarks about Biden judicial picks should his party retake control of the Senate in November’s midterm elections.
“I’m not going to go forward with any prediction on what our strategy might be should we become the majority,” he told reporters on Tuesday, adding: “What I can say with pretty great certainty is the president who ran as a moderate and who has governed as [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders would, would have to spend the last two years of his term being a moderate.”
In an interview with a conservative radio host last year, McConnell made similar comments about potential Biden Supreme Court nominees in 2023 and 2024.
McConnell’s comments hearken back to 2016, when he refused to hold hearings for then-President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, citing the fact that it was an election year — though there were still roughly 11 months remaining in Obama’s term.
Contrastingly, Judge Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed at the end of October in 2020, just days before the election, and after millions of Americans had already cast ballots.
Democrats reacted to McConnell's comments, with some saying they are discussing ways to try and preempt such an action, but their options seem slim short of retaining the Senate in the 2022 midterms.
“That's so wrong,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said to reporters of McConnell’s comments. “I think that's our responsibility.”
“We take an oath of office to do our job,” he added. "I just hope he doesn't mean that.”
Delaware Sen. Chris Coons told Axios that he is discussing with colleagues on both sides of the aisle how to prevent a nominee from being denied a hearing, but it’s unclear if 10 Republicans would back such a proposal.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrats’ 2016 nominee for vice president, offered a more sobering assessment, telling the outlet: “I’m certain that the Republicans, if they had a majority, are going to try to block key appointments.”
Some Republicans backed McConnell’s refusal to commit to a hypothetical question, while others outright endorsed the prospect of a GOP majority forcing Biden to the center for potential nominees.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of three Republicans to back Jackson’s confirmation, said “the best thing to do is just make no commitments about anything.”
“We'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told NBC News. “Right now, the chances to get the majority are probably 50-50.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told Axios that a Republican-led Senate could have a “moderating effect” on Biden’s future nominations, to which his fellow Texas legislator Sen. John Cornyn agreed.
“That's where we'll start,” Sen. Cornyn told the outlet. The bottom line is it will be a negotiation. It's always been the case that the majority decides what comes to the floor.”
"If we get back the Senate and we’re in charge of this body and there is judicial openings, we will talk to our colleagues on the other side," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. "But if we were in charge, [Judge Jackson] would not have been before this committee. You would have had somebody more moderate than this."