Will Republicans stand by their own statements, or join McConnell in the most profound hypocrisy?

Four years ago, Mitch McConnell infamously refused to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Instead, McConnell twisted a never-employed 1992 comment from Joe Biden into a “rule”: Nominees to the Court should not be considered in the year before an election. There was absolutely no justification, in law or in practice, for this rule, and while Republicans trotted out statement after statement claiming that they were following some sort of “tradition,” the truth was that McConnell invented this faux tradition whole cloth. 

Even before Donald Trump, McConnell recognized the fundamental flaw in the American Constitution—at too many points, it counts on the participants in the process of government to act with a sense of honor and commitment to the nation. The authors of that document assumed that commitment to country, and a fair dose of public pressure, made it unnecessary to cross every “T” on the to-do list. They did not contemplate the kind of men who were perfectly willing to ignore a president’s nominee to the Court, or to dismiss an impeachment without hearing a single witness. They didn’t contemplate the depth of partisanship that would make these cowardly actions something Republicans would celebrate and encourage.

Like Donald Trump and William Barr, Mitch McConnell saw that the rules as written gave him the power to grab hold of the process of democracy and strangle it. But McConnell wasn’t alone in the fantasy he spun in 2016; a long line of Republicans joined him in fabricating claims and statements, and went before the nation under the pretense of a rule that never existed. It’s clear—it’s long been clear—that McConnell is unconcerned about being caught in his lies. He’s a happy hypocrite, unconcerned with either public scorn or the verdict of history. After all, he expects the nation he’s creating through corruption of the judiciary to write that history. The questions now are: Who will join him, and can they be stopped?

As McConnell spun his rule straight from his nethers, Republicans in 2016 did the same thing that Republicans have long demonstrated as their primary attribute: They fell in line. And if falling in line required lying about Senate rules, the Constitution, or history, they were willing to go there, even if the lies were obvious. Mother Jones has compiled a list of Republican senators who, four short years ago, engaged in chest pounding over the wrong, wrong, wrongness of voting on a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. FactCheck.org has also compiled a set of statements made by Republicans in 2016—and after—that definitely need to be on the lips of every reporter, and constituent, who speaks to them from now until January. Finally, Cosmopolitan put together such a list back in February of 2017, for the express purpose of holding Republicans true to their own statements.

Of course every list is headed by McConnell.

Morning Joe put together a montage documenting Mitch McConnell's shameless flip-flop about the appropriateness of filling a SCOTUS seat in a presidential election year pic.twitter.com/Czc6dmPGbS

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 29, 2019

John Cornyn (from his own website): “I believe the American people deserve to have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court Justice, and the best way to ensure that happens is to have the Senate consider a nomination made by the next President.”

Ted Cruz:  “It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”

Marco Rubio: “The Senate is not moving forward on it until after the election. Senator McConnell, the majority leader, has already made that clear. And I agree with that. There’s been precedent established over 80 years that, in the last year, especially in the last 11 months, you do not have a lame-duck president make a lifetime appointment to the highest court on the land.”

Also Marco Rubio: “Number one, I don’t think we should be moving on a nominee in the last year of this president’s term—I would say that if it was a Republican president."

Lindsey Graham: “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election.”

“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination." pic.twitter.com/quD1K5j9pz

— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) September 19, 2020

Cory Gardner: "I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision." (This statement was made in February 2016, 10 months before the upcoming election. Gardner at first said he would consider a nominee for Obama, before McConnell forced Gardner to recant.)

Jim Inhofe: “It makes the current presidential election all that more important as not only are the next four years in play, but an entire generation of Americans will be impacted by the balance of the court and its rulings. I will oppose this nomination as I firmly believe we must let the people decide the Supreme Court's future.”

Chuck Grassley: “Following the death of Justice Scalia, as Americans were beginning to cast their votes for the next President, I said that we’d move forward with the next President’s nomination to the Supreme Court, regardless of who won. The President has made his selection and that’s what we’ll do."

Also Chuck Grassley: “A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics. The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.”

Still more Grassley: Grassley invited Merrick Garland to a breakfast meeting, not to consider him as a candidate, but to ”explain why he will not hold hearings.”

Joni Ernst: “We will see what the people say this fall and our next president, regardless of party, will be making that nomination.” 

Thom Tillis (from his own web site): “The campaign is already under way. It is essential to the institution of the Senate and to the very health of our republic to not launch our nation into a partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president.” 

Ron Johnson: “I strongly agree that the American people should decide the future direction of the Supreme Court, by their votes for president and the majority party in the U.S. Senate.”

In 2016, Susan Collins called for public hearings on Merrick Garland and praised the nominee. This was, of course, pre-falling in line.

Ditto for Lisa Murkowski, who at first supported holding hearings, only to come back and “revoke” her support after a conversation with Grassley. “Senator Murkowski respects the decision of the chair and members of the Judiciary Committee not to hold hearings on the nominee.” 

As a special bonus, here’s Ted Cruz—not just proclaiming that there should be no vote before the election, but warning about how Merrick Garland is exactly the kind of nominee you could expect … from Donald Trump: "Merrick Garland is exactly the type of Supreme Court nominee you get when you make deals in Washington D.C. A so-called ‘moderate’ Democrat nominee is precisely the kind of deal that Donald Trump has told us he would make—someone who would rule along with other liberals on the bench like Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. We cannot afford to lose the Supreme Court for generations to come by nominating or confirming someone that a dealmaker like Donald Trump would support ... I proudly stand with my Republican colleagues in our shared belief—our advice and consent—that we should not vote on any nominee until the next president is sworn into office. The people will decide. I commend Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley for holding the line and ensuring that we the people get to exercise our authority to decide the direction of the Supreme Court and the Bill of Rights.”