Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday he was “thrilled” with frequent mentions of his name during the first round of the first Democratic debate as the candidates struggled with the question of how they would deal with the top Republican if they were president.
Several of the candidates said Wednesday night that it was critical for the Democrats to win back Senate control when pressed on how they would work with McConnell, who blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and has stymied House-passed legislation.
Others suggested rallying the public to force the Senate leader to cooperate with Democrats.
McConnell, who said he watched a baseball game instead of the debate, defended his resistance to Democratic legislation.
“I understand that my sin is that I’ve been stopping left-wing agenda items coming out of the House and confirming strict constructionists to the Supreme Court. If that’s my sin, I plead guilty,” McConnell said during a Capitol Hill news conference. “I was thrilled to dominate the discussion last night, and I think that was a legitimate discussion to have.”
The Senate leader was also asked what he would do if a Supreme Court seat became vacant under a newly elected Democratic president. When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February of Obama’s last year in office, McConnell refused to hold a vote on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, infuriating Democrats. McConnell insisted at the time that it wouldn’t be fair to voters to give a lifetime judicial appointment to a lame duck president.
On Thursday, McConnell said his plan would depend on the timing of the vacancy — specifically, if it occurred in the first year of a presidential term.
“Obviously, if you have a vacancy on the first year of a term of a president, you’re not going to fail to fill that vacancy for a very lengthy period of time — no matter what the political composition is,” he said.
McConnell made sure to clarify that holding a vote on the Senate floor does not mean the nominee would be confirmed with haste.
“The Constitution says the president makes these appointments, but there is no mandate for the Senate to give consent. Whether consent is given throughout our history has largely been dependent upon the politics of the time,” McConnell told reporters.
The politics of the time, however, are still unknown. On the second night of the first presidential debate, McConnell stressed that the 2020 elections are more than just a referendum on President Trump.
When voters cast their ballots next year, McConnell said he believes they will signal to the nation whether they like the agenda put forth by the Democratic-led House.