WASHINGTON — One Republican senator seen as potentially on the fence said Tuesday he supports voting to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court, all but ensuring President Donald Trump can push a nominee through before the November election.
The Friday death of Ginsburg, a liberal icon, has roiled national politics with just six weeks to go until Election Day. Trump has said he would announce his nominee for the seat on Saturday, setting off a Senate battle with Democrats who can do little to stop the nomination for now.
On Tuesday, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, issued a statement saying he would support moving forward this year, saying he would vote on a nominee “based upon their qualifications.”
It virtually guarantees that Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, will be able to advance a new justice before Nov. 3. Two Senate Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have opposed that and said the winner of the 2020 presidential election should pick the new nominee. Collins said Tuesday she would oppose a nominee advanced before the election.
But those two look to be alone. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber and can confirm a justice by a simple majority. Any confirmation is fraught for Collins, who is in a targeted re-election campaign with House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat who has led the incumbent at least narrowly in all independent and public polls released so far in 2020.
“The nominee is going to be supported by every Republican in the Judiciary Committee,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and the chairman of the Senate panel, told Fox News late Monday. “We’ve got the votes to confirm the justice on the floor of the Senate before the election and that’s what’s coming.”
The president met with conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday and told reporters he would interview other candidates and might meet with Judge Barbara Lagoa when he travels to Florida later this week.
Conversations in the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office have been increasingly focused on Barrett and Lagoa, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.
Barrett, 48, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, was a strong contender for the seat that eventually went to Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Collins voted to confirm Kavanaugh, which led Democrats to organize heavily against her for the first time in years. At the time, Trump told confidants he was “saving” Barrett for Ginsburg’s seat.
Barrett has long expressed sympathy with a mode of interpreting the Constitution, called originalism, in which justices try to decipher original meanings of texts in deciding cases. Many liberals say that approach doesn’t allow the Constitution to change with the times.
Democrats, led by presidential nominee Joe Biden, are protesting the Republicans’ rush to replace Ginsburg, saying voters should speak first, on Election Day, and the winner of the White House should fill the vacancy.
Trump dismissed those arguments, telling TV’s “Fox & Friends” on Monday, “I think that would be good for the Republican Party, and I think it would be good for everybody to get it over with.”
The mounting clash over the vacant seat — when to fill it and with whom — injects new turbulence in the presidential campaign with the nation still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and left millions unemployed.
Democrats point to hypocrisy in Republicans trying to rush through a pick so close to the election after McConnell led the GOP in refusing to vote on a nominee of President Barack Obama in February 2016, long before that year’s election. Biden is appealing to GOP senators to “uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience” and wait until after the election.
Both sides are mobilizing for a wrenching confirmation fight punctuated by crucial issues before the court — healt hcare, abortion access and even the potential outcome of the coming presidential election.
Four Republicans could halt a quick confirmation. Trump criticized Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska on Monday opposing a preelection vote. The president warned they would be “very badly hurt” by voters, though Collins has run ahead of Trump in Maine this year.
Story by Lisa Mascaro, Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire. BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Mark Sherman, Kevin Freking, Mike Balsamo, Bill Barrow and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.