GOP Senator Lamar Alexander said Sunday he backs moving ahead with confirmation of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, dealing a major blow to dwindling Democratic hopes of keeping the seat vacant until Inauguration Day.
Two Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins — have come out against an election-year confirmation of a nominee to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat. Opposition from two more GOP senators would pub the brakes on the process, and Democrats had considered Alexander a potential no vote because he’s retiring and isn’t running for re-election this year.
“No one should be surprised that a Republican Senate majority would vote on a Republican President’s Supreme Court nomination, even during a presidential election year,” the Tennessee Republican said in a statement. “The Constitution gives senators the power to do it. The voters who elected them expect it.”
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who’s been critical of Trump and has a strong political base in his home state, is another Republican who’s deliberations will be closely watched. Liz Johnson, a spokeswoman for Romney, said he doesn’t plan to comment about how the confirmation should be handled until senators return to Washington this week.
Ginsburg, 87, died on Friday of complications from pancreatic cancer.
Murkowski of Alaska announced her position in a statement on Sunday, joining Senator Susan Collins of Maine in saying it is too near the presidential election to consider a nominee for the high court.
“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,” Murkowski said in a statement.
Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, 2016. Republicans refused to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland by President Barack Obama on March 16, 2016.
“We are now even closer to the 2020 election — less than two months out — and I believe the same standard must apply,” Murkowski said.
It’s unclear which other Republican senators might join Collins and Murkowski in opposing the zeal by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in attempting to replace Ginsburg before the election, or possibly voting on a nominee during the post-election lame duck session.
Trump laid down the gauntlet on Saturday in a tweet to Republicans that said “we have this obligation, without delay” to select a new Supreme Court justice.
Trump would be making his third Supreme Court pick and the most consequential. He would be replacing Ginsburg, arguably the court’s most liberal justice, with a conservative, altering the ideological makeup for many years.
Democratic lawmakers said Sunday that although Election Day is 44 days away, in reality it’s already arrived in several states where voting is under way.
“People are literally voting in my state right now, this weekend,” Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said Sunday on CNN. Klobuchar sits on the Judiciary Committee that would consider any nominee put forward by Trump.
The only previous court vacancy to open up so close to an election was when Abraham Lincoln was president, said Klobuchar: “and he made the wise decision to allow the election to occur, and then decide who would nominate and who he would nominate.”
Collins, who faces a tough re-election fight in November, was the first Republican to break ranks with the party’s leadership and Trump to say Ginsburg’s replacement should be selected by whoever is elected president.
“In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the president or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the president who is elected on November 3rd,” Collins said in a statement Saturday.
Most Americans agree, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday. A survey conducted Sept. 19-20, after Ginsburg’s death, found 62% of adults said the vacancy should be filled by the winner of November’s election, while 23% disagreed.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said on “Fox News Sunday” that rushing through a new justice so close to the election “will further divide our country, will further challenge the legitimacy of the court.”
Coons said he’d been “appealing personally” to Senate colleagues, including Republicans, “to reflect on how this will impact the Senate, the Supreme Court, its legitimacy.”
“We’re not 10 months or nine months away from an election, we’re just 44 days from an election and an election where in half our states votes are already being cast,” he said.