Chris Matthews: ‘Hell to Pay’ If Democrats Don't Block Anthony Kennedy Replacement

If the Democratic leadership doesn’t treat Trump’s Supreme Court nominee the way Mitch McConnell treated Merrick Garland, the MSNBC host said, ‘They’re through.’


MSNBC’s Chris Matthews did not mince words in reacting to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s surprise retirement announcement on Wednesday.

“I don’t think the Democrats should allow meetings to occur with Trump’s nominee to fill this vacancy by Justice Kennedy,” Matthews said. “I think they have to fight eye for an eye for what happened in ‘16 when the Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, refused to even consider or even meet with Merrick Garland.”

If the Democratic leadership under Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “allows this to go forward,” Matthews continued, they are going to have a “huge problem with the Democratic base.” He pointed to incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley’s loss the night before to young progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a sign of just how vulnerable the establishment wing of the Democratic Party is right now.

“There is no way politically the Democratic base will stand for any kind of hearings or vote for a Trump nominee before the election,” he added. “We’ve got an election in four and half months. There’s no reason to consider a replacement on the Supreme Court in that time.” Matthews said McConnell has “no right” to bring a nominee up for a vote after what he did to Merrick Garland two years ago.

Host Steve Kornacki pointed out how “practically” difficult that approach will be for the Democrats, who are in the minority, given that they tried to filibuster Trump’s nomination last year of Justice Neil Gorsuch but the GOP decided to “do away with the filibuster” in those cases. “If Republicans stay together, is there anything Democrats can do?” he asked.

Matthews said that if Democrats “don’t use everything they’ve got—if they don’t play hardball—I think they’re through.”

“If they allow Trump to fill the Supreme Court with another conservative who will not share Justice Anthony Kennedy’s views on social issues like marriage quality,” he said, then the Democratic leadership “will have hell to pay.”

After Kennedy’s retirement was announced on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, declared, with no sense of irony, "It's imperative that the president's nominee be treated fairly." And when The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein emailed McConnell’s spokesperson to ask if he believes the so-called Biden Rule, which the senator used to justify holding up Garland’s nomination, applies in this case, he answered, “This is not a presidential election year.”

In his remarks from the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Schumer said, “Our Republican colleagues in the Senate should follow the rule they set in 2016: not to consider a Supreme Court justice in an election year.” He added, “Millions of people are just months away from determining the senators who should vote to confirm or reject the president's nominee. And their voices deserve to be heard now, as Leader McConnell thought they should deserve to be heard then.”

“I think the Democrats have to fight this tooth and nail,” Matthews added later. “The base will attack the leadership for this if they allow it to happen and they should. This is time for vengeance for what happened two years ago.”