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Washington — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that if Republicans take control of the Senate in 2022, the new GOP majority would likely block a Supreme Court nominee from President Biden if a vacancy were to arise in 2024, and possibly in 2023 as well.

“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt. “So I think it’s highly unlikely — in fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.”

McConnell and the GOP-controlled Senate blocked the confirmation of Merrick Garland, then President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, in 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, citing the proximity to the presidential election. But in 2020, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett just days before Election Day.

McConnell has said the two situations differ in that Republicans held both the Senate and the White House in 2020, while four years prior, there was a Democrat in the White House and the GOP had control of the Senate. 

Asked whether a Supreme Court nominee from Mr. Biden would receive a confirmation hearing if a seat on the court opened at the end of 2023, the Kentucky Republican was noncommittal, saying, “we’d have to wait and see what happens.”

McConnell’s comments are likely to further stoke calls from progressive judicial groups and some Democrats for Justice Stephen Breyer, the senior member of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, to retire this year and allow Mr. Biden to name a successor in case Democrats lose power in the Senate after the midterm elections.

The president has said that if a Supreme Court vacancy were to arise while he is in the White House, he would name the nation’s first Black woman to the high court.

If Breyer were to retire, it would have little impact on the ideological tilt of the Supreme Court, which shifted rightward during former President Donald Trump’s four years in office. Mr. Trump appointed three justices to the high court with the help of McConnell, expanding its conservative majority to 6-3. 

The former president’s impact on the Supreme Court has led some Democrats to call for it to be expanded from nine members to 13 to dilute the power of its conservative majority. But Mr. Biden has said he is “not a fan” of adding seats and instead established a commission to study reforms to the Supreme Court.

Breyer, too, has come out against growing the Supreme Court beyond its nine justices, a position McConnell praised him for.

“I do want to give [Breyer] a shout-out, though, because he joined what Justice Ginsburg said in 2019 that nine is the right number for the Supreme Court. And I admire him for that,” the minority leader said. “I think even the liberal justices on the Supreme Court have made it clear that court packing is a terrible idea.”