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Senate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court

Senate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court

by ALEXANDER BOLTON | The Hill  |  Published on September 22, 2020

Republicans will gather as a conference on Tuesday and for the first time discuss whether to speed forward with confirming a successor to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

All signs suggest the GOP will move with speed to confirm a nominee before Election Day, a move that would upend the Senate and begin a new tumultuous era for the body.

President Trump said Monday he would nominate a justice by Friday or Saturday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a floor speech said there was “more than enough time” to confirm a nominee before the end of the year.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) over the weekend said nothing is off the table if Republicans move to replace Ginsburg with a conservative justice before Election Day, just four years after the GOP blocked former President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from getting even a hearing eight months ahead of an election.

Schumer’s threats have been widely interpreted as signals that Democrats would move to do away with the legislative filibuster or even seek to add justices to the Supreme Court if the GOP moves forward.

Only two GOP senators so far have indicated they do not think the Senate should vote on a Trump nominee before the election: Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), who voted to impeach Trump, said Monday evening that he wants to hear more from his colleagues Tuesday before commenting.

“Before I have any comment I’m going to meet with my colleagues, which I’ll be doing tomorrow,” he said. “Until then, I’m going to be waiting.”

But Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.), who faces a difficult reelection race, indicated in a statement that he would vote on a Trump nominee.

“I have and will continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench, and uphold the law,” Garnder said in a statement. “Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm.”

A majority of GOP senators support moving forward with a vote, with some arguing the high court needs its full complement of justices in case the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election are disputed, a possibility that senators view as increasingly likely.

“There are some arguments for why you don’t want to have a potential 4-4 split on the court, and I’m concerned about that too,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Another argument is that voting before Election Day would do more to rev up conservative voters, who turned out in large numbers in swing states in the 2018 midterm elections shortly after Senate Republicans confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after a bitter confirmation fight.

Trump supporters chanted “fill that seat” at a campaign rally the president held in North Carolina on Saturday.

Conversely, filling the seat might dampen Democratic enthusiasm ahead of Election Day as there would no longer be a vacant Supreme Court seat on the line.

A third consideration is that many believe it would become much more challenging politically to confirm Trump’s nominee in a lame-duck session if the president loses reelection and Republicans lose control of the Senate.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a rising conservative star, said Monday that he wants to have the vote before Election Day and predicted some of his colleagues might become “less comfortable” about filling the seat in a lame-duck session.

“I think we have an obligation to act. The sooner that we do that, the better,” he said. “I think it’s better if we do it before Election Day than if we drag it out.”

Other GOP senators on Monday declined to speculate about the political implications of a Supreme Court confirmation vote in a lame-duck if Democrats win big on Election Day.

“That’s a hypothetical. I’m not going to go into that,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said.

Republican senators and GOP aides say Trump’s nominee could receive a hearing, a committee vote and a floor vote in only a few weeks and that no steps will be skipped nor corners cut.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that while it would be a challenge to complete the confirmation process in 40 days or so, it would not be impossible.

“It would be the new recent world record,” he said, noting that Ginsburg was confirmed in 42 days. “We’d have to do more than we’ve done in a long time to get one done that quickly but it’s possible.

“I think it should take as long as it takes … at the same time, I don’t think we should drag it out,” he added.

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