Two Republican senators have voiced their opposition to holding a confirmation vote on any nominee to the Supreme Court before Election Day as President Donald Trump and key Republicans signaled they are moving ahead without delay.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) over the weekend said the Senate shouldn’t hold a vote on a nominee until after Nov. 3. Neither indicated if their opposition to a vote would translate into a vote against a nominee, in the likely case that Trump moves forward with the nomination and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) follows through on his vow to swiftly bring a confirmation vote to the floor.
Trump said at a rally on Sept. 19 that he plans to name a woman to fill the seat vacated by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died on Sept. 18 at the age of 87. The president urged Republicans to move forward with the confirmation without delay, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who will oversee the potential nominee’s committee hearings, signaled that he’s ready to move forward.
“So we win an election and those are the consequences, you know, it’s called ‘fill that seat,’ and that’s what we’re doing,” Trump told a rally crowd in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Sept. 19. “I will be putting forth a nominee next week. It will be a woman, it will be a woman.”
While Murkowski and Collins have no procedural power to block a vote and haven’t said how they intend to act if a vote comes up, their opposition places them into a small group of Republicans viewed as swing votes in what is building up to be a major confirmation battle. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted to convict Trump on one count during the impeachment trial, may also break from the party to vote “no” on the confirmation.
Republicans hold a 53–47 majority in the Senate. Even if Collins, Murkowski, and Romney vote with the Democrats, the GOP can still win with Vice President Mike Pence casting a vote to break a 50–50 tie.
Replacing Ginsburg is by far Trump’s most consequential Supreme Court appointment. His first two nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, replaced two other conservative justices on the bench. Ginsburg was a progressive powerhouse largely considered the leader of the liberal minority on the bench. Replacing her with a young conservative justice would result in a conservative supermajority for possibly decades.
Collins said she opposed the vote in line with her stance on not holding one ahead of the 2016 election. Democrats are also highlighting McConnell’s refusal in 2016 to hold a vote on the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed,” Murkowski said in a statement on Sept. 20.
“I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Scalia. We are now even closer to the 2020 election—less than two months out—and I believe the same standard must apply.”
The confirmation fight appears to be on track to play a major role in the weeks leading up to Election Day. The spectacle that played out during the confirmation of Kavanaugh is an example, and Democrat voters appear to be even more motivated about Ginsburg’s replacement. The top Democrat online fundraising organization, ActBlue, raised a record $100 million in the time between the announcement of Ginsburg’s passing and the morning of Sept. 20.
The shift of attention may change the dynamic between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been forcing the incumbent to play defense on the handling of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic. Trump issued a list of additional potential nominees for the Supreme Court days before Ginsburg’s death and has repeatedly called on Biden to issue a list of his own.
In apparent recognition of the new dynamic, Biden gave a speech on Sept. 20 on the topic of the Supreme Court to an audience of 15 reporters and photographers at the Constitutional Center in Philadelphia.
“Having made this their standard when it served their interest, they cannot, just four years later, change course when it doesn’t serve their ends. And I’m not being naive,” Biden said, referring to the blocked confirmation vote for Merrick Garland.
“I’m not speaking to President Trump, who will do whatever he wants. I’m not speaking to Mitch McConnell, who will do what he does,” he said. “I’m speaking to those Senate Republicans out there who know deep down what is right for the country—not just for their party.”
And in a sign that the new narrative is top of mind for the president’s reelection bid, Trump’s campaign spokesman issued a statement on the Supreme Court minutes before Biden’s speech.
“Biden knows that he is an empty vessel for the radical left and that’s why he’s refusing to be honest with the American people about who he would want on the court,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020 communications director, said in a statement.
“But make no mistake about this: The President has been clear that he will nominate a woman to fill that seat, and the Senate should vote to confirm her.”