WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Saturday said he would “most likely” put forth a female nominee in the coming week to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, pushing the Senate to consider the pick without delay.
Taking the stage at a North Carolina rally to chants of “Fill that seat,” the president said he would nominate his selection despite Democrats’ objections. And, after conducting what he joked was a “very scientific poll” of the Fayetteville crowd as to whether supporters wanted a man or a woman, he declared the choice would be “a very talented, very brilliant woman.”
He added that he did not yet know whom he would choose.
“We win an election, and those are the consequences,” said the president, who then seemed to signal that he’d be willing to accept a vote on his nominee during the lame duck period after the election. “We have a lot of time. We have plenty of time. We’re talking about January 20th.”
But one Republican senator has already broken ranks. Maine’s Susan Collins, who is in a tough reelection battle, said Saturday that she believed replacing Ginsburg should be the decision of the president who is elected Nov. 3. Three more defections from the GOP ranks would be needed to stop Trump’s nominee from joining the court.
After Collins’ decision, more attention was focused on Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, who have been critical of Trump and protective of the institution of the Senate.
And because the Arizona Senate race is a special election, that seat could be filled as early as Nov. 30 – which would narrow the window for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell if the Democratic candidate, Mark Kelly, wins.
At stake is a seat held by a justice who was a champion of women’s rights and spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court’s liberal wing. The impending clash over the vacant seat – when to fill it and with whom – scrambles the stretch run of a presidential race for a nation already reeling from the pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people, left millions unemployed and heightened partisan tensions and anger.
Some Republicans viewed the Supreme Court vacancy as another way for Trump to attract supporters beyond his most loyal core of backers, particularly suburban women who have abandoned the GOP in recent years.
“It’s hard to see how this doesn’t help Trump politically,” said veteran Republican strategist Alex Conant. “Biden wants this election to be a referendum on Trump. Now it’s going to be a referendum on whoever he nominates to the Supreme Court.”
Some Democrats privately concede that the Supreme Court vacancy could shift attention away from the virus, which has been a central element of Biden’s campaign
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York convened a conference call with Democratic senators at midday Saturday, according to a person on the private call. He told senators the “No. 1 goal” must be to communicate the stakes of the confirmation vote.
Schumer also warned that if Republicans push through the nominee, “nothing is off the table” for Senate rules changes to come, the person said.
Ginsburg’s death led to a wave of mourning, including an informal memorial at the Supreme Court and a protest outside McConnell’s house.
It also seemed certain to stoke enthusiasm in both political parties.
Democrats raised more than $71 million in the hours after Ginsburg’s death, indicating the party’s base is already galvanized.
John Fischetti, who waited in line more than two hours to enter Trump’s Fayetteville rally, said replacing Ginsburg would inflame tensions but was within the president’s rights.
“I would assume it would make everyone more energized,” Fischetti said of the political repercussions. “Trump’s people want him to always press forward.”
McConnell pledged to Trump in a phone call Friday night to bring the choice to a vote. McConnell, who sets the calendar in the Senate and has made judicial appointments his priority, declared unequivocally in a statement that Trump’s nominee would receive a confirmation vote. In 2016, McConnell refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee months before the election, eventually preventing a vote on Judge Merrick Garland.
A confirmation vote in the Senate is not guaranteed, even with a Republican majority.
McConnell has launched a risky, unprecedented strategy. It could motivate conservative voters to rally behind Trump and GOP senators, or it could push away moderates who prefer to see the Senate stick to norms or are fearful of a right-leaning court stripping away guarantees of women’s right to choose an abortion.
Typically, it takes several months to vet and hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, and time is short before November. Key senators may be reluctant to cast votes so close to the election. With a slim GOP majority, 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, Trump’s choice could afford to lose only a few.
McConnell did not specify the timing. But trying for confirmation in a lame-duck session after the Nov. 3 election, if Trump had lost to Biden or Republicans had lost the Senate, would carry further political complications.
Democrats immediately denounced McConnell’s move as hypocritical, pointing out that he refused to call hearings for Garland 237 days before the 2016 election. The 2020 election is 46 days away.
The average number of days to confirm a justice, according to the Congressional Research Service, is 69, which would be after the election. But some Republicans quickly noted that Ginsburg was confirmed in just 42 days. Obama waited more than a month to nominate Garland after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016.
The president this month added 20 more names to his roster of potential court nominees, and aides in recent days have focused on a short list heavy on female candidates, according to four White House aides and officials close to the process.
Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman to the high court if given the chance. His campaign reiterated Saturday that it would release names before the election.
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Vote ‘without delay’ on high court pick, Trump demands of Senate