Less than 24 hours after the sad announcement of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement which read, in part, as follows:
“In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.
“By contrast, Americans reelected 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. Once again, we will keep our promise.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
After scratching our heads several times, Spirited Reasoners finally understood the (specious) logic of what the Majority Leader was trying to say. His reasoning goes something like this:
If the President and the Senate are of opposite parties, then the Senate should wait until after the coming presidential election to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. But if the President and the Senate are of the same party, then the Senate should move forward (ignoring the imminent election) and vote on the President’s nominee.
No further support is given for those pronouncements.
Why do we call such reasoning specious? Because any given presidential election could, and often does, change the party label of the President, the Senate majority, or both. Given that historical fact, why should we speak of lame duck presidents without mentioning lame duck senates? Why should it be okay for a lame duck Senate to claim the authority to make such an important decision without knowing the will of the people, who are scheduled to express themselves in less than two months? The obvious answer is that Sen. McConnell’s decision is based not on the wisdom of history, or on the will of the people, but on purely partisan politics.
When he opines that Americans expanded the Republican Senate majority in 2018 “because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda,” he is implying that voters in 2020 will do the same. If that is the case, then why the rush? Why not wait to see whether, in fact, Americans choose this November to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate? If they do, then the Majority Leader could justifiably claim American support for confirmation of whomever President Trump nominates.
But if the Senate majority turns blue in November, a quick, pre-election decision to confirm a Trump nominee will have had one and only one intended consequence: to thwart the expressed will of the American people.