McConnell voted to confirm Merrick Garland as attorney general 2 years after saying blocking his Supreme Court nomination was the 'most consequential thing I've ever done'

Judge Merrick Garland, right, was nominated by President Barack Obama to the US Supreme Court in March 2016 after the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, but was subsequently blocked from hearings by Senate Republicans. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • McConnell voted Wednesday to confirm Merrick Garland as attorney general.

  • The vote came five years after he stonewalled Garland's nomination for a Supreme Court seat.

  • In 2019, McConnell called that decision "the most consequential thing I've ever done."

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted on Wednesday to confirm Judge Merrick Garland as US attorney general, just five years after he blocked Garland's nomination for a Supreme Court seat.

Garland, a two-decade veteran of the DC Circuit Court, received broad, bipartisan support to lead the Justice Department, with 70 US senators voting in favor of his confirmation and 30 voting against.

Nineteen other Republican senators voted yes along with McConnell, who revealed last month that he would support Garland's nomination.

Politico first reported on McConnell's decision to support Garland for attorney general last month. When asked whether he intended to back the judge, McConnell said, "I do." He did not elaborate.

Related: Here are some of the most contentious Supreme Court nominees in U.S. history

The Kentucky Republican made headlines in February 2016 as Senate majority leader when, just an hour after Justice Antonin Scalia's death, he announced that he would not grant a Senate hearing to any nominee then-President Barack Obama selected to fill Scalia's seat. McConnell vowed to keep the seat open for nearly another year, until a new president was elected.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," he said at the time. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." Senate Republicans drew swift backlash for refusing to even grant the appeals-court judge a confirmation hearing and tanking his nomination before he had a chance to testify.

Nearly three years later, McConnell praised himself for the decision, telling The New York Times in a 2019 interview that blocking Garland's nomination was "the most consequential thing I've ever done." Scalia's vacant seat was eventually filled by the conservative judge Neil Gorsuch, who President Donald Trump nominated shortly after taking office in 2017.

McConnell has frequently said that reshaping the federal judiciary is his biggest priority and touted the record number of conservative judges the GOP-controlled Senate was able to confirm during Trump's tenure. The former president worked closely with McConnell and was able to appoint more than 200 judges to the federal bench and three justices to the Supreme Court.

Last year, McConnell faced backlash when he pushed through the confirmation of Trump's third Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death just weeks before the November general election. Democrats pelted the GOP leader with allegations of hypocrisy over his refusal to grant Garland a confirmation hearing nine months before the 2016 election in order to honor the voters' choice and doing the opposite in 2020.

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