Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined me this morning to discuss the nomination by President Trump of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the United States Supreme Court:
HH: Joined by the leader of the United States Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Leader McConnell, welcome back. First thing, congratulations to your wife on her confirmation as Transportation Secretary, I believe only the second woman in American history to hold two cabinet jobs. So congratulations to her.
MM: Great. Well, thank you very much, Hugh, and thank you for sending me a signed copy of your new book.
HH: Well, I hope you get to the part about the judicial confirmations, Chapter 4. That’s the key part.
MM: Oh, I will.
HH: And I have a column in the Washington Post today about repairing the Senate. Before we go to the Gorsuch nomination, Mr. Leader, I’ve got to ask you one very important question. You saw Deshaun Watson light up your beloved Louisville in October, 42-36. Should the Browns make him their number one overall draft pick in April?
MM: Well, they can’t, because he’s got another year.
HH: Oh, he’s coming out. Watson’s coming out.
MM: Oh, Watson? Watson, yeah, oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were talking about my guy.
HH: Oh, Jackson? No. Watson.
MM: No, I would take Watson. I think Watson is the best quarterback in the country. I think Lamar Jackson of Louisville is the best athlete, and that’s why I think he won the Heisman Trophy.
HH: All right, so I just wanted to get that on the record. I also want to thank you for saving the Supreme Court by adopting the No Hearings/No Votes policy. Democrats are complaining about this. I heard you last night explain that had not happened in 80 years, and they ought not to be complaining about that.
MM: No, look, we were right in the middle of a presidential election year, and I wasn’t going to let Barack Obama fill this vacancy in the 11th hour of his presidency. So complaining about last year has nothing to do with this year. This is the beginning of a four year term. I said the American people would choose the person who would make this nomination. Honestly, everybody thought that would be Hillary Clinton. So it was about the principle of not filling the vacancy in the middle of a presidential year. So yes, last night was a proud night for Senate Republicans. Many of us were down at the White House to watch the President make this truly outstanding nomination. And had it not been for the Senate Republican majority, it would have been filled by Barack Obama.
HH: I want to remind people of that and thank you for your leadership. You came out early and held the line on that, and thankfully, it is going to be Judge Gorsuch. Last hour, Chuck Grassley, chairman of Judiciary Committee, was on with me, said I haven’t told Leader McConnell this, yet, but this is so important, we ought to abandon the Easter recess if we have not got him confirmed by that point. Do you agree with that, Senator McConnell?
MM: Well, that’s fine. You know, I don’t think that’s going to be required. It’s interesting that a number of Democrats already last night said they were squeamish, they didn’t put it quite this way, squeamish about filibustering. Let me just say to your listeners, regardless of all this procedural talk about filibusters, no filibusters, we’re going to get this judge confirmed. I do think the Senate minority ought to treat this nominee the same way we treated President Clinton’s first two nominees. Neither one of them was filibusters. We were in the minority. We could have done it. President Obama’s first two nominees, we were in the minority, we could have filibustered, we didn’t do it. All we’re asking for is equal treatment. And of course, the President has picked a genuine all-star. This guy is quite possibly the most significant and most impressive circuit court judge in the entire country.
HH: That is why the former Solicitor General of the Obama administration, acting Solicitor General Katyal, came out today in the New York Times and said vote for him. Now I have asked your colleagues, Senator Cornyn, Senator Thune and Senator Grassley, the big three besides you, on this process, the theoretical question that if they do filibuster, will you invoke the Reid Rule to break it? They have all replied by saying the same thing. The nominee will be confirmed. They won’t say explicitly we’ll use the Reid Rule. They just say the nominee will be confirmed. Let me ask you, Leader McConnell, if they do filibuster, will you break the filibuster using the Reid Rule?
MM: Oh, I’m not going to predict how this is going to end. It’s really up to the Democrats. They made us get cloture, that is a super-majority vote, on Justice Alito back in 2006, but cloture was invoked. In other words, we got 60 votes. We’re going to follow the regular order of the Senate, and we’re going to give the Democrats a chance to confirm this outstanding nominee. And I’m not going to answer the hypothetical question about how this may end, other than to say Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed.
HH: That’s all I need to hear. Let me ask you about other things. You can start too late, but you can never start too early. I read that in a book called The Long Game by Mitch McConnell.
HH: In the appeals court, there are 13 vacancies, and they are so crucial. And then there are another 100 district courts. Are they starting early enough at the White House to get the names up to you, because I saw Democrats obstructing yesterday, and I expect they’re not going to stop.
MM: No, they may not stop, but thanks to the so-called nuclear option where the Democrats lowered the threshold for confirmation of all of the judges, lower court judges and the executive branch appointments to 51, we have an excellent chance of clearing the deck of all the vacancies that we inherited from the previous administration, and there are quite a number of them. And we’re intent on filling them, Hugh, because Barack Obama did a lot of damage to the country in many ways. One of the ways was his court appointments. We’ve got a record number of vacancies going back to the early 50s, and we intend to fill them this Congress.
HH: And in terms of the Reid Rule, which changed the rules of the Senate to allow that change under 51 votes as opposed to 60, will you ever invoke that in a different setting to even the score, not necessarily Judge Gorsuch, but if can do it once, ought we not to do it once to change a rule we don’t like?
MM: I think the Senate has worked well for America for 240 years. It does, it is a place that things don’t happen quickly. That’s exactly how George Washington and the founding fathers intended the Senate to operate, and I think we ought to think long and hard about whether we want to blow up the institution of the Senate for some kind of short term advantage. I think we can achieve the things that we want to achieve for the American people without doing that. We can repeal and replace Obamacare. We can do comprehensive tax reform. We can repeal a lot of the President’s, outgoing President’s regulations. All of that, I think we can achieve without fundamentally altering the institution, which frequently has been very helpful in slowing down bad ideas when you have an administration like we just witnessed over the last eight years.
HH: I’ve actually got a column in the Washington Post about how one gets back to where you were with the guardrail of the minority rights in the Senate, and we can come back to that. I want to talk, though, you did pass the Congressional Review Act with, a few years ago, and it provides for the repeal of rules passed in the last 60 legislative days. There’s also an interpretation out there by one of the people who worked on the bill, and Dave McIntosh, that it would apply to any rule for which a report was not filed, which would open it back up to 1996, if the agency that promulgated the rule, regulation or guidance didn’t provide that report. Do you agree with that expansive reading of the Congressional Review Act, Senator McConnell?
MM: My staff is taking a look at that, and they unfortunately don’t agree. I do. I think it would be a great opportunity if it were in fact the case. But the people that I’ve had take a look at it just don’t believe it’s possible. That’s the bad news. The good news is it’s clearly the regulations issue going back to last June are eligible. We’re going to start repealing regulations that come over from the House, in fact, this very week.
HH: I would be interesting in pursuing it a little bit further, that your staff has looked at this. Is it based on the legislative history of the time that they come to that conclusion? Or the way…
MM: Yeah, they’ve consulted with a number of different people and concluded that unfortunately, I’d love that to be the case, but my folks don’t think it is. We’re happy to keep looking at it. It would be a great opportunity if it were.
HH: All right, now I want to turn to the obstruction of yesterday where they don’t show up in a committee. How do you move a nomination when the rules provide that you’ve got to have one Democrat, and no Democrat will show up? How do you get it to the floor?
MM: Look, all of this stuff that they’re doing with the cabinet is ultimately pretty futile. They can make us burn time, and they’re doing that. But they’re not going to succeed. And I think it makes them look pretty bad. I think it’s pretty obvious who’s trying to ball things up here, and the American people don’t like this high level of dysfunction. They thought they elected a new administration and a sympathetic Congress to move things in a different direction. And to prevent the President from even getting his cabinet appointments, look, we could have done this to Barack Obama. There are ways to ball up the Senate when you’re in the minority. We didn’t do it. He got seven cabinet nominees confirmed on the day he was sworn in. He had five more within a few more days after he was sworn in. As of this afternoon, we will have gotten six. And but look, we’re going to win this war. They can huff and they can puff, but they’re not going to blow the house down. And we’re going to confirm these nominees and move on with the business of this administration.
HH: And a last question with a minute, reconciliation provides for the repeal of Obamacare, but not necessarily the replacement at the same time. Are you in favor of repealing by a date certain, regardless of whether or not the replacement is in place?
MM: Well, we’re going to move forward on this. Fortunately, much of Obamacare was a punt, in other words, handing over to the Secretary of Health and Human Services wide latitude. And once we get Tom Price confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services, we’ll have an important ally to deal with a lot of the transition from what we have now to where we’re going through the executive branch. In other words, not every single piece of it will have to be passed by Congress. So it’ll be a combination of executive action and Congressional action to take us to a better place.
HH: Leader McConnell, always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you for coming on. Again, thank you for saving the Supreme Court. You did it, and I appreciate it.
End of interview.