Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he would work to fill any Supreme Court vacancy in 2020, an election year, despite his efforts to scuttle Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the bench for that very reason in 2016.
“Uh, we’d fill it,” McConnell said in response to an audience question during an event at the Paducah Chamber of Commerce in Kentucky on Tuesday afternoon. The lawmaker issued a small smile during his answer as guests in the room laughed.
He continued: “The reason I started with the judges ... I mean, if you want to have a long-lasting positive impact on a country, everything else changes.”
McConnell’s office did not immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for clarification of his remarks.
The senator’s comments are notable, given his rhetoric during the final months of former President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House. McConnell refused to hold any debate on Garland, Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy created by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, saying no one should be considered until after that year’s presidential election.
Filling the vacancy on the court ultimately fell to President Donald Trump, who named Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench.
McConnell has shifted his story in recent months, saying in an interview with Fox News last October that he didn’t want to “destroy” Garland, but was following “tradition in America.”
“If you have ... a Senate of a different party than the president, you don’t fill a vacancy created in a presidential year,” McConnell told Fox News host Chris Wallace. “That went all the way back to 1888.”
At the time, he declined to say if he would confirm a Supreme Court nomination in 2020 if Trump were in the midst of a reelection battle.
In an interview with The New York Times earlier this year, McConnell called his blocking of Garland the most important thing he’d done in his political career, saying: “I think the most consequential call I made was before President Trump came to office.”
“The decision not to fill the Scalia vacancy,” the senator said. “I think that’s the most consequential thing I’ve ever done.”
McConnell echoed those sentiments on Tuesday and said he hoped his efforts to overhaul America’s judiciary will make a lasting mark on the country’s history.
“What can’t be undone is a lifetime appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of a judge is to follow the law,” McConnell said during the event. “So that’s the most important thing that we’ve done for the country, which cannot be undone.”