Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham once vowed that if there was a Supreme Court vacancy in a presidential election year, he would not vote to confirm the nominee. “I want you to use my words against me,” he said in 2016, not long after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, ‘Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,’ ” Graham went on to say.
It wasn’t the only time he expressed that sentiment either. In a 2018 interview at the Atlantic Festival, Graham said: “I will tell you this. If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election. Hold the date.”
Well, the senator from South Carolina has now gone back on that pledge, but he suggests you can’t actually use his words against him because circumstances have changed. Hours after Trump sent out a tweet making clear that he wants the Senate to quickly vote on the person he will nominate to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, Graham said he will support the president’s efforts. In a series of tweets Saturday, Graham appeared to try to explain his reasoning by noting that “the two biggest changes regarding the Senate and judicial confirmations that have occurred in the last decade have come from Democrats.” The first of those shifts was the change in Senate rules to allow for a simple majority vote for circuit court nominees. He doesn’t say that it happened in 2013, nor that it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who decided to apply that rule to Supreme Court confirmations. In addition, “Chuck Schumer and his friends in the liberal media conspired to destroy the life of Brett Kavanaugh and hold that Supreme Court seat open,” Graham said. Kavanaugh was confirmed on Oct. 6, 2018; Graham made his comments at the Atlantic Festival three days earlier.
Graham has also put forward a similar argument to McConnell, claiming that the circumstances are different from 2016 because both the Senate and White House are controlled by Republicans. “Well, Merrick Garland was a different situation. You had the president of one party nominating, and you had the Senate in the hands of the other party. A situation where you’ve got them both would be different. I don’t want to speculate, but I think appointing judges is a high priority for me in 2020,” Graham said in an interview on Full Court Press With Greta Van Susteren scheduled to air Sunday.
Earlier Saturday, Graham had already hinted at his changing position, tweeting out links to two articles that he described as his “most recent statements” on the issue. One of those articles is from August and quotes Graham saying that “the rules have changed as far as I’m concerned” after Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The piece also quotes Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine: “We knew basically they were lying in 2016, when they said, ‘Oh, we can’t do this because it’s an election year.’ We knew they didn’t want to do it because it was President Obama.”*
Graham is facing a tough reelection battle. On Wednesday a Quinnipiac University poll claimed Graham and his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison, are tied, each obtaining 48 percent support among likely South Carolina voters.*
Correction, Sept. 19, 2020: This post originally misspelled Tim Kaine’s first name and Quinnipiac.
Support our 2020 coverage
Slate is covering the election issues that matter to you. Support our work with a Slate Plus membership. You’ll also get a suite of great benefits.Join Slate Plus