I will make a confession. On learning of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of my first reactions was to assume that even Mitch McConnell could not be so boldly hypocritical as to seek to fill her vacancy before the end of 2020. After all, McConnell back in 2016 blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland on the bogus grounds that no Supreme Court vacancy should be filled any time during a presidential election year. That was in February—nine months before the presidential election. Now we’re just six weeks away from it. Consistency would require McConnell to defer any vote on the court vacancy till after the election, and until the installation of the new president if Trump should lose. How naïve of me to believe there might be limits to McConnell’s hypocrisy. He is clearly shameless, not unlike the president he so loyally serves.
But I don’t think McConnell will be successful. A combination of political opportunism and principle will deter just enough Republican senators–it will only take four–to foil their leader.
Lisa Murkowski was the first to say that she will not vote on the vacancy till after the presidential inauguration in 2021. A commendable stand on principle. Susan Collins, in an uphill re-election bid, has a golden opportunity to demonstrate her independence by joining Murkowski. She would be a fool not to do so, and she is no fool. I expect we will hear from her very soon. Other potential opportunistic opposition to McConnell could come from GOP senators in tough re-election campaigns in Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Montana, and even Georgia and Iowa.
Who else? Mitt Romney—the only GOP vote for impeachment—comes first to mind. But there are others. Chuck Grassley in 2018 said that no court vacancy should be filled in 2020. I wouldn’t count on him sticking to his word, but who knows? And then there’s Lamar Alexander, who is retiring. He is a conservative, of course, but not a fanatic and he has no future in Republican politics, so he could just decide to do the right thing. There’s also Ben Sasse, who has tangled with Trump over his abuse of presidential power.
So, I count two definite opponents of a court confirmation steamroller—Murkowski and Collins—and one probable, Romney. We only need one more, out of multiple possibilities motivated either by principle or opportunism. The probability is that at least that one additional dissenter will emerge. This time McConnell won’t get his way.