In the immediate aftermath of news reports that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, a furious partisan debate broke out regarding whether Senate Republicans should push for confirmation of a presidential nominee prior to the next inauguration.
While reporters were quick to pressure Republican lawmakers on their position, a leaked memo from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) advised party members to “keep [their] powder dry” and avoid committing to a stance, as reported by The New York Times.
“Tremendous pressure from the press”
Much of the Democratic Party’s opposition to holding a confirmation vote stems from McConnell’s position in 2016 that senators should not vote for the late Antonin Scalia’s replacement ahead of that year’s presidential election.
He has since argued that the current situation is different and is attempting to rally the GOP’s 53 senators ahead of a possible confirmation vote that would need just a 51-vote majority to pass.
Of course, some vulnerable Republicans — including Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — have already gone on the record to indicate they would not be likely to support any effort to confirm a nominee prior to Election Day.
McConnell stressed in his letter to fellow Senate Republicans that they should avoid using definitive language in expressing their positions.
“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,” he wrote.
“This is not the time”
Addressing those senators “who are unsure how to answer” as well as “those inclined to oppose giving a nominee a vote,” McConnell’s advice was clear.
“I urge you all to keep your powder dry,” he continued. “This is not the time to prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret.”
As for the president, he tweeted on Saturday that selecting Supreme Court justices is among the “most important” duties of the office and signaled his intention to announce his nominee “without delay.”
According to Ginsburg’s granddaughter, the 87-year-old justice made it clear in her final days that her wish was that she “not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
McConnell might need a little time to convince enough members of his party that agreeing to a vote is the right move — and it could be that the recent letter to colleagues was sent with the intention of providing him that necessary buffer.