McConnell to support Garland for attorney general

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will support Merrick Garland’s nomination for attorney general, five years after blocking the judge's path to the Supreme Court.

“I do,” McConnell told POLITICO Tuesday afternoon when asked if he plans to back Garland. The Kentucky Republican did not elaborate on his decision.

In 2016, McConnell, who was Senate Majority Leader at the time, declined to consider Garland's nomination by then-President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy left by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. McConnell argued that the future of the high court seat was for the American people to decide, given that it was a presidential election year and the White House and Senate were controlled by different parties.

Senate Republicans have maintained that their decision to prevent Garland from receiving a hearing in 2016 was not personal.

"President Obama and his allies may now try to pretend this disagreement is about a person," McConnell said at the time, shortly after Obama formally nominated Garland. "The decision the Senate announced weeks ago remains about a principle, not a person."

Republicans, after winning the White House, filled Scalia's former seat with Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017. McConnell has described his decision to block Garland as the “most consequential thing I’ve ever done.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a two-day confirmation hearing this week for Garland.Some Senate Republicans criticized Garland for not answering enough questions, but several have already announced their support for him to lead the Justice Department, including Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), a McConnell confidant. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also spoke positively of Garland on Monday.

McConnell's decision to support Garland for attorney general is not entirely surprising, particularly given that the Kentucky Republican recommended him to lead the FBI during the Trump administration. But his Tuesday announcement could clear the way for even more GOP senators to vote for Garland.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a committee vote on Garland’s nomination March 1 and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said he is hoping for final confirmation next week.

Garland is currently a judge on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he also served as chief judge. Prior to being named to the federal bench, Garland worked at the U.S. Justice Department, where he played a key role in overseeing the criminal investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings.

During his confirmation hearing, Garland stressed his law enforcement background. Over the weekend, the Justice Department released a list of law enforcement groups supporting him for attorney general, including the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2016 and again last year.