Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is committed to getting President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court confirmed, but the Kentucky Republican sounds no more interested in getting advice about Senate rules from Trump than from anyone else who is not a senator.
And he certainly will not be changing the rules on how legislation moves across the Senate floor.
“You know we get a lot of advice about Senate rules from people who don’t serve here,” McConnell said when asked about Trump’s recent backing of the “nuclear option” to eliminate the need for 60 votes to limit debate on his Supreme Court nominee. “Mostly they’ve been members of the House of Representatives.”
“What I’ve said to the president is we’re going to get the Supreme Court nominee confirmed, provided it’s somebody who is truly outstanding and I’m somewhat in the loop on the pre-nomination discussions,” McConnell said. “I think we’re going to get an outstanding nominee, and I think we’re going to get him confirmed.”
Trump said Friday he was considering the Senate confirmation process as he decides on a Supreme Court appointment, and evangelicals will love his pick.
“I think also it’s who’s going to get approved,” Trump told CBN News. “And you know we have to go through a process after I pick the person that I’m going to be picking, who I think I know, but I’m not 100 percent, I can’t guarantee it. We’re doing some further checking.”
McConnell, speaking one-on-one with Roll Call in his Capitol office, did not get specific about how much he knows of Trump’s intent to fill the seat vacated when Justice Antonin Scalia died last February. McConnell and his fellow Republicans refused to hold a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat, Merrick G. Garland.
“I do think that the suspense won’t last much longer, and we’ll be reacting to a nominee, which apparently we’ll get on Thursday,” McConnell said.
While he did not categorically rule out changing precedents on Supreme Court nominees to ease confirmation, McConnell was more direct in saying he would not be changing Senate rules for legislative business in order to ram through legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare that did not fit into the filibuster-avoiding budget reconciliation process.
He praised the efforts of Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., to ensure that his conference understands the procedural limitations facing the Senate GOP.
“I think the speaker’s done a good job, and every time I’m with the House, I try to underscore too, what the institutional differences are,” McConnell said. “I think there’s a pretty high level of understanding in the House that we’re certainly not going to change the legislative rules, and they know that the proposal they put together has to be reconcilable in the Senate.”
McConnell said they were consulting with the Senate parliamentarian to minimize headaches.
“I think it’s a pretty broad understanding that that’s where we are, and people in the House can wish for different Senate rules, but we’re in charge of the Senate rules, and we’re going to have to make the changes that we make consistent with the rules of the Senate, and that’s what we’ll do,” McConnell said.
But both the Supreme Court nomination fight and the health care reconciliation bill are a little bit down the road. Much of the floor schedule in the coming weeks will be occupied with efforts to confirm Trump’s cabinet, with Democrats slowing the pace on a number of the nominees.
“The Supreme Court nominee obviously will start off in committee, so that isn’t going to take any floor time. We’ll be busy confirming members of the cabinet and dealing with Congressional Review Act measures that come over from the House of Representatives,” McConnell said. “So, we’ll have plenty to do on the floor.”
McConnell did not make a specific threat about late night or weekend work to go through the procedural motions to process the nominees, but he certainly signaled that he would be prepared to do so.
“There’s a way to grind through, particularly based on what they did in 2013, to finish up these cabinet appointments and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he said. That was a reference to Democrats’ changing Senate rules and invoking the “nuclear option” so lower court and executive branch nominations weren’t subject to filibusters.
Todd Ruger contributed to this report.