Senator Mitch McConnell vowed late Friday that he would move to put President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, breaking with his 2016 stance and setting the stage for a bruising battle that promised to reverberate through the 2020 elections.
“Americans re-elected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement issued not long after news of Justice Ginsburg’s death became public. “Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
It was a stark turnabout from his position four years ago, when Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, reacted to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia by declaring that a successor should await the outcome of the presidential election, and then proceeded to block President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, sought to remind Mr. McConnell of that former position minutes after the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death, saying in a tweet: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
His words were not accidental. They were a verbatim recitation of what Mr. McConnell said in his surprising announcement in February 2016 immediately after Justice Scalia’s death.
The difference now, Mr. McConnell has said, is that the same party controls both the Senate and the White House as opposed to 2016, when Democrats held the presidency and Republicans the Senate. At the time, that was not a main element of the Republican argument.
In his statement Friday night, Mr. McConnell made no mention of the timing for considering nominees, a sign that he was calculating the best scenario for Supreme Court hearings and a vote, given that several Republican senators are facing tough re-election challenges.
Democrats are virtually powerless to block Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans from moving ahead to fill a vacancy in the court if they decide they want to do so.
And any Republican who resists would come under tremendous pressure given the chance for Mr. Trump, who is battling for re-election, to get a third nominee for the court and lock in his conservative majority. Republicans, led by Mr. McConnell, have made their push to place more than 200 conservative judges on the federal bench a centerpiece of their agenda, and Mr. McConnell will no doubt want to put an exclamation point on that achievement.