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Democrats slam McConnell's openness to potential 2020 Supreme Court nominee

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell says that if a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court during next year's election cycle, the chamber would likely confirm a Republican nominee selected by President Donald Trump.

McConnell led Republican blockade of Obama choice Merrick Garland in 2016

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says that with a Republican president and Republican-controlled Senate, a hypothetical 2020 scenario is not comparable to Barack Obama nominating a justice with months left in his term in 2016. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell says that if a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court during next year's election cycle, the chamber would likely confirm a Republican nominee selected by President Donald Trump.

In an appearance in Paducah, Ky., Tuesday, McConnell told a questioner asking what would happen if a Supreme Court Justice died next year, creating a vacancy, "Oh, we'd fill it."

Three years ago, during President Barack Obama's term, McConnell orchestrated a blockade of Obama's choice of Merrick Garland to fill a vacancy created with the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia. McConnell said then the choice should be left to voters in an election year.

McConnell spokesperson David Popp said that the Kentucky Republican is being consistent since he took care in 2016 to say that vacancies occurring when the White House and Senate are held by different parties should be held up. The current situation involves the Senate and the White House being held by Republicans.

McConnell's stance drew criticism from Democrats still smarting from his success in cementing the high court's conservative majority.

In multiple tweets, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer of New York called him a "hypocrite" and said McConnell "knows the [Republican] agenda is so radical and unpopular they can only achieve it in courts."

Democratic presidential nominee Jay Inslee said it was time to end the filibuster. Beginning with the nominee of Neil Gorsuch by Trump in 2017, McConnell triggered a rules change in which a justice could be nominated with a simple majority instead of a 60-vote threshold.

Republicans defended that McConnell move, pointing to a 2013 decision by Democrats to push through lower court nominees with a simple majority.

The two Supreme Court justices over 80, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, were each nominated by Bill Clinton.

In addition to Gorsuch, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh, like Gorsuch in his early 50s, was confirmed by the Senate after a bitter nomination process that included allegations of sexual assault in the 1980s, which he denied.

With files from CBC News

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