How Trump & Mitch McConnell Plotted To Pack The Courts With Conservatives
President Donald Trump was interviewed by author Bob Woodward 18 times, which were recorded for the Washington Post, while others were published in Woodward’s book Rage. The tapes have not shed the best light on the incumbent president. New tapes of these interviews relating to the Supreme Court have been released following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last week.
Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) have worked closely over his presidency to appoint as many conservative federal judges as possible. McConnell’s involvement here is deemed questionable, considering he spent much of his time during Barack Obama‘s presidency attempting to delay the nomination and confirmation of judges to the slowest rate the country has seen in over 60 years. Additionally, after arch conservative Justice Antonin Scalia passed in 2016, McConnell was insistent that the Senate could not confirm Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the open Supreme Court seat.
“It is today the American people, rather than a lame-duck president whose priorities and policies they just rejected the most-recent national election, who should be afforded the opportunity to replace Justice Scalia,” stated McConnell in 2016. Garland was not even allowed to have a confirmation hearing, and when the Trump Administration took office in 2017, Neil Gorsuch was nominated and confirmed to the seat.
Trump states in the Woodward interviews that “Mitch’s biggest thing in the whole world” is making sure justices are approved. He explained that, if McConnell is given the choice of the Senate approving 10 new ambassadors or one new judge, “he will absolutely ask me, ‘Please, let’s get judge approved instead of 10 ambassadors.”
Trump’s judicial appointments have been considered a huge success for his administration and the Republican Party; after only four years in office, he has had 216 judges confirmed by the Senate, an impressive number when compared to the past seven presidents (he ranks second, behind Obama). Woodward addressed this success, joking that maybe someday there would be a “statue of (Trump) outside the Supreme Court.”
“Oh, what a good idea,” Trump responded, “I’ll think I’ll use it…I won’t say it came from me.”
Trump’s success in judicial appointments can also be credited to the 2013 change by Democrats in the Senate’s rules for approving judges, which was in response to McConnell’s attempts to slow down approval of Obama’s nominations. This rule, called the “nuclear option,” eliminated the previous 60-vote majority and replaced it with a simple-majority rule. This “nuclear option” is problematic, because the original vote encouraged bipartisanship on the bench, whereas the new way of voting concerned many Senators at the time, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). His concern, specifically, was that a majority-rule would create a partisan Supreme Court, due to the possibility that senators would be pushed towards voting in favor of their parties.