Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made clear on Saturday that he would move to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court, despite having said in the past that such vacancies should not be confirmed during a presidential election year.
On Saturday, he tweeted that he would support President Donald Trump “in any effort to move forward regarding the recent vacancy created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg.”
Graham, locked in what a recent poll showed is a tough reelection bid, is reversing the stance he took four years ago as Republicans blocked then-President Barack Obama from filling the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,” Graham said in March of 2016, eight months before that year’s election ended with Trump winning the White House.
“You could use my words against me and you would be absolutely right,” he added at the time.
Graham reiterated that position as late as October 2018: “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election.”
But Graham, who as the Judiciary Committee head will be in charge of the confirmation process, started backing away from his previous stance even before Ginsburg’s death. In justifying moving forward with a new high court this year, Graham cited the bitter 2018 fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s high court nomination by Trump.
After that battle, “the rules have changed as far as I’m concerned,” Graham said earlier this year, referring to the allegations of sexual misconduct that nearly derailed Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
Graham has also echoed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who led the effort that thwarted Obama from filling the 2016 vacancy but on Friday night, shortly after news broke of Ginsburg’s death, said she should be replaced before the next president is inaugurated on Jan. 20. McConnell has rationalized the apparent hypocrisy by noting that now both the Senate and the White House are held by Republicans, whereas in 2016, the GOP-held Senate was asked by Obama ― a Democrat ― to consider nominee Merrick Garland.
Graham said in May, “Merrick Garland was a different situation.”
As various news outlets aired and publicized Graham’s 2016 comments, the South Carolina Republican urged his Twitter followers on Saturday to review his most recent comments about filling a vacancy.
Trump in a Saturday tweet said he plans to nominate a new justice “without delay.” His comment followed McConnell saying Friday night that a Trump pick would “receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
McConnell did not say whether that vote would take place before the Nov. 3 election, when the GOP’s Senate majority is at risk, or afterward in a lame-duck session.
Democrats urged McConnell to wait and respect Ginsburg’s dying wish that the president who takes office on Jan. 20 should be the one filling her seat. If that doesn’t happen, Democrats may move to eliminate the Senate filibuster and add seats to the high court if their party takes control of the chamber and the White House next year.
In a conference call with his caucus on Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “Let me be clear: If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year. Nothing is off the table.”