POLITICO — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been been involved in Supreme Court nomination fights going back to when Richard Nixon was still in the White House.
But the 74-year-old Kentucky Republican now faces a nomination struggle unlike any he has taken part in before, and the stakes couldn’t be higher — for him, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court. McConnell is trying to prevent a sitting president with 334 days left in office from naming a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, an unprecedented assertion of authority by the Senate and one that could alter the balance of power between the White House and Capitol Hill.
McConnell also wants to leave a Supreme Court seat vacant for at least a year — potentially as long as 15 months or more — an extraordinary move that would leave the panel with only eight justices for the longest period since the Nixon era.
Democrats are already crying foul, labeling McConnell “the greatest hypocrite ever” and an “obstructionist,” while vowing to make the GOP pay a heavy price in November. Progressive activists have begun to target him and vulnerable Republican incumbents with TV ads and protests back in their home states, believing they can make the penalty so high for refusing to take action on any nominee from President Barack Obama that McConnell and Republicans must back down.
However, to think McConnell is going to cave in this struggle is a serious misread of the Kentucky Republican, according to those closest to him. McConnell sees this faceoff as an existential fight for the Senate Republican majority. In his mind, Republicans must block Obama from getting a third nominee onto the Supreme Court — potentially shifting the liberal-conservative ratio of the panel for a generation — or there really is no need to have a Senate majority in the first place.