Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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For Mitch McConnell keeping his Senate majority matters more than the Supreme Court

Jane Mayer writes:

As the Democrats weigh their options about how to stop Mitch McConnell from filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat, one tactic that they should forget about immediately is arguing that it would be hypocritical of McConnell to jam in a new Justice so close to an election. Obviously, it nakedly is, given that Ginsburg died forty-five days before the 2020 election, and this was McConnell’s rationale for blocking Barack Obama’s nominee two hundred and sixty-nine days before the 2016 election. But anyone familiar with the Republican senator from Kentucky’s long political career knows he couldn’t care less about hypocrisy; like President Trump, he is immune to shame.

“McConnell will do anything that serves his interests. We know that,” Norman Ornstein told me, shortly after learning of Ginsburg’s death. Ornstein, a political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose expertise is Congress, has known every Senate Majority Leader during the past fifty years—including McConnell, quite well. The question now, though, is how McConnell will define his self-interest.

As I reported in April, behind closed doors McConnell has been raising money from big conservative donors for months by promising that no matter how close it might be to the election, he would install Trump’s Supreme Court pick. As a former Trump White House official told me, “McConnell’s been telling our donors that when R.B.G. meets her reward, even if it’s October, we’re getting our judge. He’s saying it’s our October surprise.”

But now that the moment is here, the calculation isn’t quite so simple. On Friday night, McConnell released a statement vowing that a Trump nominee “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” While McConnell’s obstruction of Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, made him the bane of liberals, he has regarded it with pride as the single “most important decision I’ve made in my political career.” He and many others believe it handed Trump his victory by motivating the politically powerful evangelical bloc to vote for Trump, despite their doubts about him, because he promised to fill the Court vacancy with a social conservative. It’s entirely possible that the same scenario will play out again this November, with Trump and McConnell offering another enticing gift to evangelicals.

But McConnell is also what Ornstein calls “a ruthless pragmatist,” whose No. 1 goal has always been to remain Majority Leader of the Senate. He’s made the conservative makeover of the federal court system his pet project, but if he faces a choice between another right-wing Justice or keeping his control of the Senate, no one who knows him well thinks he’d hesitate for a moment to do whatever is necessary to stay in power. In fact, back in the summer of 2016, when it looked like Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton, far from being distressed at his party’s dim prospects, McConnell was savoring the probability of being the single most powerful Republican in the country, according to a confidant who spoke with him then. [Continue reading…]

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