With all the fake sincerity he could muster in 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky insisted repeatedly that he was taking a principled stand when he blocked President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee from consideration to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia's death. Obama was in the final year of his presidency, McConnell insisted, and filling the vacancy should be left to his successor.
The decision to block nominee Merrick Garland was "about a principle, not a person," McConnell stated. Leave it to the American people to decide via the 2016 election, he added, not "this lame-duck president."
McConnell stated this point so many times — echoed mantra-like by other Capitol Hill Republicans, including Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt — that it almost sounded like he believed his own words. This week, McConnell confirmed his own hypocrisy.
Speaking at a Paducah, Ky., gathering, McConnell was asked by an audience member whether he would allow a nominee to be considered in 2020, in the final year of President Donald Trump's term, if a Supreme Court vacancy developed. His instant response: "Oh, we'd fill it."
Clearly recognizing that he was saying the exact opposite of his 2016 position, McConnell grinned as if mulling the punchline to a joke. The joke was on the American people.
The fundamental unfairness behind the blocking of Garland's nomination was replayed countless times on Capitol Hill throughout 2016. Scalia died in February that year — 11 months before Obama would leave office. He nominated Garland, the chief U.S. circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, less than a month later.
Senate Republicans refused even to meet with him. No nomination hearings were held. It frankly mattered not one whit how qualified Garland was; his nomination was dead on arrival.
Mustering his best impression of a sincere person, McConnell repeatedly explained that this would have happened regardless of who was in the White House. "What I did was entirely consistent with what the history of the Senate's been in that situation going back to 1880," he stated on CBS' "Face the Nation" last October.
That simply wasn't true. Such confirmations have happened more than a dozen times, including in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy during Reagan's final year in office. A Democrat-dominated Senate confirmed him.
"Senator McConnell is a hypocrite," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York accurately tweeted.
McConnell does not now, nor apparently has he ever, conducted Senate affairs on the basis of principle. He defends a president who lies daily. He shrugs off the blatant Russian interference that helped put Trump into office. Would he even hesitate to sell out his country to advance the Republican cause of the day? That grin says it all.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH