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One-on-one with Majority Leader McConnell

Sen. Mitch McConnell weighs in on the Supreme Court, coronavirus, Breonna Taylor, and Tuesday’s presidential debate
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Majority Leader...
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., arrive for a news conference about the FBI investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.(Jacquelyn Martin | AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 3:37 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sits down with Washington Bureau Reporter Kyle Midura. Over the course of a 12-minute interview they discuss the politics and process of seating a new Supreme Court Justice, stalled coronavirus relief negotiations, and the latest questions surrounding the case of Breonna Taylor.

-- A full transcript follows as well as portions of the recorded interview, lightly edited for time. --

Kyle Midura, Washington Bureau Reporter:

I wanted to start by asking you about your meeting with Judge Amy Coney Barrett earlier this week. You expressed your happiness with the choice, what in your opinion makes her an exceptional pick by the president?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky):

Well, she’s led an extraordinary life. First, on the personal side, five children, two adopted, one special needs child. She’s led an extraordinary life.

And then, in terms of the law, we got a fascinating piece from a former law professor at Notre Dame who actually had her as a student, said she was the single most outstanding student he had ever had, in all of his years at Notre Dame.

And of course she clerked for Justice Scalia, an icon of the strict constructionist movement in the courts. I think she’ll get a unanimous ‘Well-Qualified’ from the American Bar Association. The president simply could not have picked a more extraordinary nominee, and a worthy successor to one of the country’s icons, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

KM: The late-Justice Ginsburg made it clear that it was her wish that her seat remain unfilled until there’s a new congress and presidential term come January of next year.

This would be the closest a nomination and confirmation has occurred to Election Day, if indeed it does go through, and in past years where there were election year nominations and confirmations, the minority had the power to filibuster.

Why should this go through now and not wait?

Sen. McConnell:

Well, if you want to talk about process, there have been eight nominations by a president to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court during a presidential election year, to a Senate of the same party of the president, seven out of eight were confirmed. And, the one that wasn’t blew up in a scandal.

With regard to how long from her nomination to confirmation, there have been a number of Supreme Court Justices, including people like John Paul Stevens, David Souter, who were confirmed in a shorter period of time than will occur with Judge Barrett.

With regard to the proximity of the election, the reason it’s close to the election is because of the tragedy of the death of Justice Ginsburg. This is not something that was calculated, it just happened. And it would be totally shocking, if the shoe were on the other foot, if there were a Democratic President and Democratic Senate, believe me, they would be filling the vacancy as well.

Sen. Mitch McConnell on Judge Amy Coney Barrett and filling Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat

KM: in 1956, President Eisenhower decided to go with a recess appointment when we had an opening close to the election instead, so that things could filter out later. 1932, one of those unified years, President Hoover actually picked a Democrat from the other side, so as to smooth things over. Were those considerations this go-round in your conversations with the president?

Sen. McConnell: No, I don’t think there’s any thought at all of not filling the vacancy, and filling the vacancy with people like Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh. People we believe will follow the law as it’s written. Not as their personal preferences dictate. That’s the big difference between Democrat and Republican presidential nominees to the courts in recent years. We have believed that as Justice Gorsuch once said, judges don’t wear red robes or blue robes, they wear black robes, they’re supposed to call the balls and strikes. As Justice Scalia used to say, ‘if you want to write policy why don’t you run for office? That'’s not what we do here', he said.

KM:

Since about the late ’60s, early ’70s there’s been a consistent back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats, kind of ratcheting up the rhetoric, ratcheting up polarization when it comes to the court and picks.

This go around, the Democrats have said if this goes through and we’ve got control of both chambers of Congress as well as the White House come January, some of them have voiced a willingness to add justices to the court — which hasn’t happened since the mid-1800s.

Are you at all concerned that this move could potentially lead to other moves from Democrats in the future, and that it may threaten the courts legitimacy as some have suggested?

Sen. McConnell:

Yeah, well you quoted Justice Ginsburg a few moments ago, let me give you another quote from Justice Ginsburg. Just last year, she was asked about this, and she said, “nine is a good number”. So, we want to go back and look at quotes from Justice Ginsburg, she spoke on this issue.

Yeah, I think they might well do it. Joe Biden did not rule out packing the Supreme Court, to try to overturn things that they don’t like. They want to break the rules. If they can’t get what they want they want to break the rules, break the rules in the Senate, let new states in like D.C. and Puerto Rico so they have new Democratic senators, stack the Supreme Court.

Look, they ought to try not to break the core of our country. The way to change things is to win elections, and what they’re threatening to do here hasn’t been done since 1869. Justice Ginsburg said, “nine is a good number,” she was right.

Sen. Mitch McConnell on Breonna Taylor, justice, and safety

KM:

I want to pivot briefly back to news out of your hometown of Louisville. One charge of ‘Wanton Endangerment’ coming [for] an officer out of the Breonna Taylor case, that still needs to proceed to trial, what was your reaction to that?

Sen. McConnell:

Well, I have a lot of confidence in the attorney general. I think he has a tough job to do, and he’s doing it as best he can.

My reaction to what’s happening in my hometown is one of sadness. I believe in the right to peaceful protest, the Constitution protects that activity. But, rioting and looting, and shooting police officers, all of which has happened in my hometown, is very distressing. To see the businesses boarded up, people prevented from making a living as a result of this, that’s taking demonstrating way too far outside the realm of peaceful protesting into the area of lawlessness.

KM:

As you mentioned, you’ve consistently expressed faith in Attorney General [Daniel] Cameron’s handling of the case, do the concerns raised by a grand juror shake that faith in anyway, will you review the transcript once it’s released?

Sen. McConnell: I don’t have any advice to give to the legal system about how to handle the case. We all know it’s a tough case, tragic outcome of this effort to get into the apartment. But, I’m not going to give the legal system in Kentucky any advice about how to handle this. I’m sure they’re doing their best to follow the law and ultimately it will be before a jury with some charges, and they’ll decide what the penalties should be.

Sen. Mitch McConnell on coronavirus relief negotiations

KM: Back here on Capitol Hill, do you see the debate, the process surrounding picking a new Supreme Court justice distracting from negotiations over another coronavirus relief package?

Sen. McConnell: Well I don’t, not necessarily, I’ve said repeatedly over the last couple of months I do think we ought to pass another package. I’ve tried to pass one in the Senate. A few weeks ago we had a vote on a package that my side thought made sense, another rescue package, we couldn’t get a single Democrat for it.

And, the House of Representatives is a totally different place, just throwing trillions of dollars at the problem, when we think that’s irresponsible given the fact that our national debt is the size of our economy now, for the first time since World War II.

I still hope we can reach an agreement, I think the proximity of the election makes that very difficult.

KM: In that respect, Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin are reportedly in discussions again. Apparently, they are at least closer than the House and the Senate are in their proposals. If those two sides can come to an agreement, do you see the possibility of a foundation to get all sides on the same page?

Sen. McConnell: Well, that’s a big hypothetical, we’ll have to see if they can bridge the differences between Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. If they can, then I’ll take a look at it.

KM: Finally sir, you mentioned the president, I want to get your reaction to the debate.

When the president wants to condemn someone or a group, he does so forcefully. Why do you think he was unable to do so when asked about the ‘Proud Boys’ during the debate? I did see that you joined Sen. [Tim] Scott’s (R-S.C.) opinion suggesting that you believe he misspoke.

Sen. McConnell: Well, I would have two observations:

With regards to the debate, I think it’s safe to say it was not Lincoln-Douglas.

With regards to white supremacists, there’s no room for them in America, I condemn them totally. And, I think other people in public life should do the very same thing. I thought Tim Scott said it very, very well and I’d like to associate myself with what he had to say. There’s no place in America for white supremacists

KM:

During the debate, the president also questioned mail-in voting and its integrity, have you had any conversations with him about that subject?

Sen. McConnell: Well, every state decides how to vote, and I think some of the states are adopting policies that make it much more likely there is fraud.

Fortunately, I don’t think that’s happening in Kentucky. I believe the deal worked out with the Republican Secretary of State and the Democratic governor will allow Kentuckians to have confidence in the outcome of the election in our state whether they choose to vote by mail, whether they choose to vote early, or whether they choose to vote on election day.

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