Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell flatly refuses to waver in his opposition to confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, declaring that Judge Merrick Garland "will not be confirmed this year" under any circumstances.
"The nomination will be made by the next president," McConnell unequivocally tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview, "whomever that may be. Period."
McConnell tells Newsmax that confirming Garland would "clearly move the Court dramatically to the left," and insisted he won't give Obama "an opportunity to do that, on his way out the door."
The key question now is how McConnell's stance will affect the GOP's tenuous 54-to-46 seat majority in the Senate. His party faces an uphill battle because 24 of the 34 Senate seats up for grabs in November are held by Republicans, giving them much more territory to defend.
Political analyst Larry Sabato's "Crystal Ball" currently projects an almost even split. Republicans are favored to control 48 seats, with Democrats holding onto 47. That leaves five toss-up races in Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Florida.
McConnell concedes that holding onto the Senate is "a dicey situation" for Republicans. Universally known on Capitol Hill as "the Leader," McConnell is by training and temperament a historian. So it comes as no surprise that he turns to history to justify his blanket rejection of Garland's nomination.
"It's been 76 years since a vacancy on the Supreme Court emerged during a presidential election year that has been confirmed," he tells Newsmax. "You have to go back to Grover Cleveland in 1888 to find the last time a vacancy on the Supreme Court occurring in the middle of a presidential election was confirmed by a Senate controlled by the opposite party."
McConnell appears unfazed by Democratic attempts to pressure him into holding hearings on Garland's nomination, although Democrats continue to try to turn up the political heat.
Almost daily, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest blasts the Senate's refusal to grant the chief judge of the D.C. U.S. Court of Appeals a hearing.
Obama himself recently held an impromptu meeting with student journalists at the White House and used the occasion to call out McConnell by name, saying democracy only works when there is "a willingness to follow the rules and treat people fairly."
The PR onslaught may be working, however.
An April NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated voters would prefer by a 52 to 30 percent margin for the Senate to vote on the Garland nomination.
But McConnell insists Republicans "are simply following the tradition, long-established, that vacancies on the Supreme Court occurring right in the middle of a presidential election are not going to be filled."
He also rejects the characterization of Garland as a moderate.
"There is nothing moderate at all about Judge Garland," he states. "Just because Barack Obama calls him a moderate doesn't make him a moderate."
In litigation, he adds, Garland "almost without exception" sides with government and the unions.
McConnell also hit back hard against complaints from the grassroots that GOP leaders have missed opportunities to block the president's policies.
"Well, I would like to remind everybody that the only way to stop the president is through a bill he can sign," he said. "In the Constitution, a document we all revere, the president is the only one in America who can sign something into law or veto something. So when I hear ‘why haven't you stopped Obama?' it's because he can veto a bill stopping him.
"And I've got two examples. We put the repeal of Obamacare on his desk and he vetoed it. We put defunding of Planned Parenthood on his desk and he vetoed it. So I would like to remind people of the Constitution itself and the power it gives to the presidency."
In fact, McConnell cites the GOP's roadblock on the Garland nomination as evidence the party leadership is doing all it can, noting that "under the Constitution, we don't need his permission to stop a Supreme Court justice. He gets to nominate and we get to confirm. So when people say what difference does it make that we elected a Republican majority, I have a two-word answer: Supreme Court.
"Without this Republican majority, Garland would be confirmed."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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