John McCain backs off promise Republicans would block Clinton Supreme Court nominees

An issue that has been mostly absent from this year’s Senate campaigns — the fate of the Supreme Court — suddenly erupted Monday after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., indicated during a talk-radio appearance that Republicans would move to block any high-court nominee made by a President Hillary Clinton should the Democratic nominee win.

McCain made his remarks on WPHT-AM radio in Philadelphia, during an interview in support for fellow Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.: “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” he said. “I promise you. This is where we need the majority and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.”

The remark immediately raised hackles of Democrats who have complained about GOP treatment of President Obama‘s judicial nominees — most prominently, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, whose nomination has sat in limbo for more than six months after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., resolved to save the pending vacancy for the next president.

McCain’s comments raised the prospect that the vacancy could extend much longer than that, particularly if Republicans maintain their control of the Senate. Even if Democrats win the majority, they would still need a handful of GOP votes to confirm any Supreme Court nominee — current Senate rules require 60 senators to close debate and move to an up-or-down vote.

If Republican were in fact “united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton . . . would put up,” that could mean the Supreme Court would remain an eight-member body indefinitely — and perhaps force a change to Senate rules allowing for simple-majority confirmation of Supreme Court nominees.

McCain’s office issued a statement Monday afternoon backing off his pledge of blanket opposition.

“Senator McCain believes you can only judge people by their record and Hillary Clinton has a clear record of supporting liberal judicial nominees,” spokeswoman Rachel Dean said. “That being said, Senator McCain will, of course, thoroughly examine the record of any Supreme Court nominee put before the Senate and vote for or against that individual based on their qualifications as he has done throughout his career.”

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