Politics

After the announcement of the retirement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s swing-voting Justice Anthony Kennedy, Mitch McConnell told a gathering of Kentucky Republicans that this has been “the best” year-and-a-half for conservatives in recent history.

President Donald Trump has said he’ll nominate Kennedy’s replacement on July 9 and McConnell will be tasked with shepherding the nominee through the confirmation process in the Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans.

“There’s not any doubt in my mind that we’ll be able to get this nominee confirmed and I’m confident the president’s going to send up an all-star, somebody of very high quality, and that really helps,” McConnell told reporters in Louisville on Saturday.

Some Democrats have called for McConnell to delay the confirmation process until after the November mid-term elections. That’s when all U.S. House of Representatives seats and many seats in the U.S. Senate are up for a vote.

McConnell said he won’t do that, and brushed aside comparisons to his refusal to consider Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, in 2016 because of the presidential election that year.

“If you changed the players, [Democrats] would have not have confirmed in the middle of a presidential election either,” McConnell said.

“This is not a presidential election.”

McConnell has touted holding the Supreme Court seat vacant during the 2016 election as one of his greatest accomplishments in the Senate.

President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the court and he was confirmed after McConnell led the charge to change the Senate’s rules to end the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees and lower the number of votes needed to confirm judicial nominees from 60 to 51.

Republicans control 51 seats in the 100-member Senate.

The confirmation process will likely develop into a debate about abortion rights and whether the nominee will uphold the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

McConnell said he didn’t think the nominee would answer questions about how they would rule on abortion cases during the confirmation process.

“I can’t imagine the president asking a nominee about Roe v. Wade or the nominee expressing a decision on Roe v. Wade either privately or publicly, no I don’t think we’ll get an answer on that issue,” McConnell said.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said that he would choose justices who would oppose abortion, saying during the final presidential debate that overturning Roe v. Wade would “happen automatically” as a result of his appointments.

McConnell said that he hopes Trump nominates U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amul Thapar — a friend of McConnell’s who previously served as U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

“I hope Judge Thapar is in the final group and it would be a great thing for Kentucky and the nation,” McConnell said. “I think the president will send us somebody who is very similar in terms of background and view of what the role of a judge is.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.