By HOPE YEN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Picking up the pieces after a contentious nomination battle, the Senate’s majority leader said Sunday that the chamber won’t be irreparably damaged by the wrenching debate over sexual misconduct that has swirled around new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
McConnell, in two news show interviews, tried to distinguish between President Donald Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh this year and his own decision not to have the GOP-run Senate consider President Barack Obama’s high court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016. McConnell called the current partisan divide a “low point,” but he blamed Democrats.
“The Senate’s not broken,” said McConnell. “We didn’t attack Merrick Garland’s background and try to destroy him.” He asserted that “we simply followed the tradition of America.”
The climactic 50-48 roll call vote Saturday on Kavanaugh was the closest vote to confirm a justice since 1881. It capped a fight that seized the national conversation after claims emerged that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted women three decades ago. Kavanaugh emphatically denied the allegations.
The accusations transformed the clash from a routine struggle over judicial ideology into an angry jumble of questions about victims’ rights and personal attacks on nominees.
Ultimately, every Democrat voted against Kavanaugh except for Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Kavanaugh was sworn in Saturday evening in a private ceremony as protesters chanted outside the court building.
McConnell said the confirmation fight had energized Republican voters and he praised GOP senators, who he said had “stood up to the mob” in favor of the “presumption of innocence.”
He signaled that a Republican-controlled Senate would act on a fresh Trump nominee to the Supreme Court in 2020 — a presidential election year — should a vacancy arise. The court’s two oldest justices are Democratic appointees: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Stephen Breyer is 80.
“We’ll see if there is a vacancy in 2020,” McConnell said.
Two years ago, McConnell blocked a vote on Garland, citing what he said was a tradition of not filling vacancies in a presidential election year. But when asked again Sunday about it, he sought to clarify that a Senate case in 1880 suggested inaction on a nominee only when the chamber was controlled by the party opposing the president.
Republicans currently hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, with several seats up for grabs in November.
Trump has now put his stamp on the court with his second justice in as many years. Yet Kavanaugh is joining under a cloud.
While Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Kavanaugh’s confirmation was a shining moment for the GOP heading into next month’s pivotal elections, GOP Gov. John Kasich of Ohio predicted “a good year” for Democrats and said he wonders about “the soul of our country” in the long term after the tumultuous hearings.
Accusations from several women remain under scrutiny, and House Democrats have pledged further investigation if they win the majority in November. Outside groups are culling an unusually long paper trail from his previous government and political work, with the National Archives and Records Administration expected to release a cache of millions of documents later this month.
Still, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he believed it would be premature for Democrats to talk about re-investigating Kavanaugh or a possible impeachment if the party takes control of the chamber in November, stressing a need to help heal the country.
“Frankly, we are just less than a month away from an election,” Coons said. “Folks who feel very strongly one way or the other about the issues in front of us should get out and vote and participate.”
McConnell spoke on “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Kasich appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Coons was on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”