President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says ‘stubborn child’ Fed ‘blew it’ by not cutting rates MORE on Monday said he would make a nomination to the Supreme Court if there’s a vacancy before the 2020 presidential election.
“Would I do that? Of course,” Trump said in an exclusive interview with The Hill when asked if he would try to fill a high court vacancy during election season.
The position is an apparent reversal for the president, who as a candidate in 2016 backed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility California governor predicts ‘xenophobic’ GOP will likely be third party in 15 years This week: Congress set for clash on Trump’s border request MORE’s (R-Ky.) decision to block former President Obama’s nomination of Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandBernie Sanders hits McConnell for saying DC, Puerto Rico statehood is ‘full-bore socialism’ Democrats should initiate a ‘Fire Mitch McConnell’ campaign Valerie Jarrett: Obama would be impeached ‘in a nanosecond’ for behaving like Trump MORE to the high court.
But the president denied that his position was an about-face, since Republicans control both the Senate and the White House.
“They couldn’t get him approved. That’s the other problem because they didn’t have the Senate. If they had the Senate, they would have done it,” Trump said of Democrats.
“It depends. I mean, we have the Senate. We have a great Senate. We have great people. If we could get him approved, I would definitely do it. No, I’d do it a lot sooner than that. I’d do it. If there were three days left, I’d put somebody up hoping that I could get ’em done in three days, OK?” he continued.
Trump crafted a list in the months before the 2016 election of potential Supreme Court nominees, which helped secure him the support of some ambivalent conservative voters.
Since his inauguration, the Senate has confirmed dozens of Trump’s district court nominees as well as two Supreme Court nominees: Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchSupreme Court sides with immigrant in gun possession case Conservative Supreme Court justices reverse precedent on property rights cases Supreme Court throws out death sentence of Mississippi inmate MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMaine House speaker announces challenge to Collins Senate seat Trump denies new sexual assault allegation Supreme Court sides with immigrant in gun possession case MORE.
The president has touted those confirmations as being among the high points of his term, noting that the justices will reshape the high court for decades to come.
Gorsuch was confirmed 54-45 in 2017 to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Garland had originally been nominated by Obama for that seat.
Kavanaugh was nominated last year to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, and was confirmed 50-48 following a brutal confirmation battle that included multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the judge.
McConnell, who earned the wrath of Democrats with his refusal to bring Garland’s nomination up for a vote, said last month at an event in Kentucky that Republicans would fill a Supreme Court vacancy even if it occurs during the 2020 presidential election.
“Oh, we’d fill it,” McConnell said to laughter from the audience.
The Senate majority leader justified the decision to hold up Garland’s nomination in 2016 by arguing voters deserved a say by picking a presidential candidate who would make the appointment to the high court.
Some Senate Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE (R-S.C.), have expressed reluctance to move forward on a nominee in an election year.
“If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait until the next election,” Graham said last year at an event hosted by The Atlantic.
Three of the nine current justices on the Supreme Court are 70 or older, though none have indicated they are preparing to retire. Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgSupreme Court sides with immigrant in gun possession case Conservative Supreme Court justices reverse precedent on property rights cases Supreme Court throws out death sentence of Mississippi inmate MORE is 86, Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerSupreme Court sides with immigrant in gun possession case Conservative Supreme Court justices reverse precedent on property rights cases Supreme Court throws out death sentence of Mississippi inmate MORE is 80 and Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasSupreme Court sides with immigrant in gun possession case Conservative Supreme Court justices reverse precedent on property rights cases Supreme Court throws out death sentence of Mississippi inmate MORE is 71. Ginsburg and Breyer are both members of the court’s liberal wing, while Thomas is a conservative.
Republicans currently control the Senate, with 53 seats. A nominee needs only a simple majority for confirmation.
The confirmation process typically lasts weeks or months, with individual senators seeking meetings with the nominee before they advance to a hearing before the Judiciary Committee and a full vote in the Senate.
In Monday’s wide-ranging interview with The Hill, the president touched on topics including everything from the Federal Reserve to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team.
Asked about rising tensions with Iran, Trump said he has the authority to take military action against the nation without congressional approval.
“But we’ve been keeping Congress abreast of what we’re doing … and I think it’s something they appreciate,” he said. “I do like keeping them abreast, but I don’t have to do it legally.”
“We were pretty close to maybe making a decision to strike. Then I decided not to do it. Nobody went out, by the way. I was going to make that decision by a certain time, and I decided not to do it because it wasn’t really proportional,” Trump added.
He also weighed in on the 2020 campaign, saying he hopes Democratic front-runner former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility Inslee unveils plan to fight fossil fuel pollution Biden lays out immigration priorities, rips Trump for ‘assault on dignity’ MORE “does very well,” but he thinks “there is something going on in that brain of his.”
“How he doesn’t get President Obama to endorse him — there has to be some reason why he’s not endorsing him,” the president said. “He was the vice president. They seem to have gotten along. And how President Obama’s not endorsing him is rather a big secret,” Trump mused, adding, “Then he goes and lies and said, ‘I asked the president not to endorse me.’ Give me a break.”
—Updated at 8:12 p.m.