Trump Supreme Court pick gains steam, Senate Republicans back vote as election nears

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans lined up behind President Donald Trump's push to widen the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority on Tuesday, leaving Democrats with little hope of blocking a conformation vote that could come before the Nov. 3 election.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a rare Trump critic in the caucus, said he would vote for a nominee, giving his party enough support to hold a vote for Trump's third appointment to the high court, which would give it a 6-3 conservative majority. Trump has said he plans to announce his nominee by Saturday.

He and other Republicans dismissed Democratic arguments that the Senate should wait until after voters decide whether to re-elect Trump or chose Democratic challenger Joe Biden in November. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sunday found that a majority of Americans, including many Republicans, also wanted the election winner to make the nomination.

"I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the president's nominee," Romney said.

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Four Republicans would have to join the Democrats in opposing a confirmation vote to block the nomination. Only two have taken that position. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Maine's Susan Collins said the Senate should not consider a nominee this year.

Collins faces a strong challenge from a Democrat aiming to oust her in November's election, when control of the Senate also is at stake.

Despite that, there is enough support among the remaining Republicans to hold a vote on the nominee before Nov. 3, according to two Republican aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ginsburg, a pioneering advocate of gender equality, died on Friday at age 87.

Democrats accuse Republican lawmakers of hypocrisy, pointing out that they refused to even consider Democratic President Barack Obama's nominee to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat in 2016 because it was an election year.

Romney said that was not a concern for him, as Washington was split between a Democratic president and a Republican Senate that year, while this year Republicans control both.

"My liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court. And that's not written in the stars," he told reporters.

POTENTIAL SUCCESSORS

Public mourning events for Ginsburg will be held in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday and in the Capitol on Friday.

Her replacement could steer the court in a more conservative direction on abortion, healthcare, gun rights, voting access, presidential powers and other spheres of American life.

Trump has mentioned two women who he has appointed as federal appeals court judges as possible nominees: Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Trump met with Barrett at the White House on Monday and has said he might meet with Lagoa in Florida later this week.

Both candidates enjoy strong support among conservative legal activists, but could potentially encounter problems in the Senate. Barrett could face opposition from Collins and Murkowski over concerns that she would roll back abortion rights, while Lagoa is not particularly well known, which could slow down the confirmation process.

Democrats have few, if any, options for preventing a vote.

Top congressional Democrats have downplayed possibilities like holding a second impeachment vote, withholding government funding that is due to expire on Sept. 30, or boycotting committee hearings.

"I've been around here a few years. You can slow things down but you can't stop them," Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, told reporters.

Outside liberal groups are ramping up pressure campaigns in the hopes of either swaying Republican senators like Collins and Colorado's Cory Gardner who face difficult re-election prospects, or using anger over the vote to boost Democratic turnout and oust them on Nov. 3.

The Senate could also vote in a lame-duck session after the election before a new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer prevented the committee's chambers from conducting business on Tuesday afternoon in a symbolic protest. The Supreme Court vote, he said, "may now very well destroy the institution of the Senate."

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

09/22/2020 20:33

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