WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate's majority leader, insisting his chamber won't be irreparably damaged by the bitter fight over new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, is signaling he's willing to take up another high court nomination in the 2020 presidential election season should another vacancy arise.
"We'll see if there is a vacancy in 2020," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Heading into pivotal midterm elections, McConnell tried to distinguish between President Donald Trump's nomination of Kavanaugh this year and his own decision not to have the GOP-run Senate consider President Barack Obama's high court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016. McConnell called the current partisan divide a "low point," but he blamed Democrats.
"The Senate's not broken," McConnell said. "We didn't attack Merrick Garland's background and try to destroy him." He asserted that "we simply followed the tradition of America."
While McConnell said Kavanaugh's confirmation was a shining moment for the GOP, some Republicans weren't so sure. GOP Gov. John Kasich of Ohio predicted "a good year" for Democrats in the November elections and said he wonders about "the soul of our country" in the long term after the tumultuous hearings.
"It could be a short-term win," he said.
The climactic 50-48 roll call vote Saturday on Kavanaugh was the closest vote to confirm a justice since 1881. It capped a fight that seized the national conversation after claims emerged that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted women three decades ago. Kavanaugh emphatically denied the allegations.
The accusations transformed the clash from a routine struggle over judicial ideology into an angry jumble of questions about victims' rights and personal attacks on nominees.
Ultimately, every Democrat voted against Kavanaugh except for Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Kavanaugh was sworn in Saturday evening in a private ceremony as protesters chanted outside the court building.
McConnell said the confirmation fight had energized Republican voters and he praised GOP senators, whom he said re-established the "presumption of innocence" in confirmation hearings.
"We stood up to the mob," he said. "This is an important day for the United States Senate."
Two years ago, McConnell blocked a vote on Garland, citing what he said was a tradition of not filling vacancies in a presidential election year. But when asked again Sunday about it, he sought to clarify that a Senate case in 1880 suggested inaction on a nominee only when the chamber was controlled by the party opposing the president.
Republicans currently hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, with several seats up for grabs in November. The court's two oldest justices are Democratic appointees: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Stephen Breyer is 80.
If you have a Senate of a different party than the president, "you don't fill a vacancy created in the presidential year," McConnell said.
Trump has now put his stamp on the court with his second justice in as many years. Yet Kavanaugh is joining under a cloud.
Accusations from several women remain under scrutiny, and House Democrats have pledged further investigation if they win the majority in November. Outside groups are culling an unusually long paper trail from his previous government and political work, with the National Archives and Records Administration expected to release a cache of millions of documents later this month.
Still, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he believed it would be premature for Democrats to talk about re-investigating Kavanaugh or a possible impeachment if the party takes control of the chamber in November, stressing a need to help heal the country.
"Frankly, we are just less than a month away from an election," Coons said. "Folks who feel very strongly one way or the other about the issues in front of us should get out and vote and participate."
McConnell spoke on "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation," Kasich appeared on CNN's "State of the Union," and Coons was on NBC's "Meet the Press."