McConnell to GOP Colleagues: ‘Keep Your Powder Dry’ on Supreme Court Nominee

September 19, 2020 Updated: September 19, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has urged those of his Republican colleagues who may be hesitant about voting on a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an election year to avoid prematurely committing to a position, telling members of his caucus, “keep your powder dry.”

In a letter obtained by CBS reporter Alan He and several other outlets, McConnell suggested that GOP senators undecided about filling an election-year Supreme Court vacancy should avoid committing themselves to a position until they return to Washington on Monday and have the chance to meet as a caucus, amid an expected onslaught of pressure to announce a decision.

“Over the coming days, we are all going to come under tremendous pressure from the press to announce how we will handle the coming nomination. For those of you who are unsure how to answer, or those inclined to oppose giving a nominee a vote, I urge you all to keep your powder dry,” McConnell wrote in the message, adding, “This is not the time to prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret.”

It comes after McConnell said in a statement on Friday night, sent hours after Ginsburg passed away, that President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

In his message to members of the GOP caucus, McConnell sought to pre-empt two likely arguments against voting on a replacement, the first being the notion that Senate Republicans set a rule in 2016 that the Senate would not fill a vacant seat in a presidential election year.

“That is not true,” McConnell said, explaining that, in 2016, Senate Republicans followed a rule that said Supreme Court vacancies that arise in presidential election years should not be filled when the presidency and the Senate majority are held by parties on the opposite side of the aisle.

Democrats have argued that because McConnell blocked then-President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016, the GOP should not move to replace Ginsburg before the Nov. 3 election.

McConnell at the time said he was adhering to the so-called Biden rule, referring to former Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who is now the Democratic presidential nominee. Biden in 1992 argued that President George H. W. Bush shouldn’t nominate someone to fill a Supreme Court vacancy if one arose because of the upcoming presidential election.

McConnell said Friday that this situation is different, because Republicans hold both the Senate and the presidency, while each party held one in 2016.

“In the last midterm election before Justice [Antonin] Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year,” he said. In his message to GOP colleagues, McConnell reiterated this position.

The second argument McConnell addressed was the idea that there may not be enough time to fill the vacancy before the November election.

“That again is not true,” he wrote, citing several historical examples, including that of Ginsburg’s own confirmation, which took 50 days from candidacy announcement to floor vote, and a Heritage Foundation analysis that found that over the past 30 years, the Senate has held a confirmation vote within 71 days after nomination, on average.

“Again, I urge you all to be cautious and keep your powder dry until we return to Washington,” he wrote.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, said Saturday that the Republican Party has an obligation to nominate Ginsburg’s replacement on the bench.

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices,” Trump wrote in a social media statement.

“We have this obligation, without delay!” he added.

Ginsburg died at age 87 on Friday at her home in Washington.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

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