Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested Monday that the Republican party’s months-long refusal to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court could extend into the next administration if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” McCain said on WPHT Philadelphia radio in an interview first flagged by CNN. “I promise you. This is where we need the majority.”
McCain’s office walked his remarks back hours later, saying he would vote for individual nominees based on their record and experience.
“Senator McCain believes you can only judge people by their record and Hillary Clinton has a clear record of supporting liberal judicial nominees,” communications director Rachael Dean told TPM in a statement. “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.”
The nation’s highest court has been stuck in a four-four deadlock of liberal and conservative justices since Antonin Scalia died in February. Senate Republicans have maintained that the next president should have the opportunity to select his replacement and have refused to vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee, moderate judge Merrick Garland.
Some congressional Republicans have poked holes in this unified message, however, arguing that they should be able to vote for Garland in a lame duck session if Clinton wins the election, fearing that she may appoint a more progressive justice. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) admitted to the Daily Beast in early October that “nobody really believes” that the next president should be able to decide “because if this were the last year of a Republican presidency nobody would say that.”
Since 1900, six justices have been confirmed in a presidential election year.
Though McCain rescinded his endorsement of Donald Trump over a leaked video in which the Republican nominee bragged about predatory behavior towards women and has vocally criticized his “outrageous statements,” the Arizona senator told WPHT that he was unsure if Trump or Clinton would select better justices for the Supreme Court,
“I don’t know, because I hear him saying a lot of different things,” McCain said.
Trump has attacked McCain as “foul mouthed” and fickle in the days since he withdrew his support.
This post has been updated to include comment from McCain’s office.