Senate Republicans Huddle Over Trump’s Supreme Court Plans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
The American flag above the White House is seen at half-staff after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in Washington, September 20. (Reuters/Erin Scott)

Senate Republicans on Tuesday will have their first formal gathering since liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death gave them a chance to cement a 6-3 conservative majority at the court ahead of the November election.

President Donald Trump has urged a quick Senate vote on a Supreme Court nominee he aims to name by Saturday. Democrats’ hopes of keeping the seat empty faded on Monday when two Republican Senators, Chuck Grassley and Cory Gardner, signaled their support for moving forward quickly.

Republicans, who will meet for a weekly lunch on Tuesday, hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. That means at least four Republicans would need to defect to prevent a vote on a Trump nominee.

Two Republican senators – Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski – have said the chamber should not move forward with a Trump nominee before the election.

Democrats had hoped to pick up similar support from Gardner, who faces a tough reelection fight, and Grassley. But both men on Monday said they support voting on a qualified Trump pick before the election.

Democrats see Senator Mitt Romney, a Trump critic, as a potential holdout. Romney said on Monday he wanted to attend the weekly lunch with colleagues before answering questions about the Supreme Court seat.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who like Trump is seeking reelection in November, said late Monday that Republicans had the votes to back the president’s nominee before the election.

“We’re going to move forward in the committee, we’re going to report the nomination out of the committee to the floor of the United States Senate so we can vote before the election. That’s the constitutional process,” he told Fox News in an interview.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Trump said he was zeroing in on one or two candidates among five who are under consideration.

Two federal appeals court judges appointed by Trump are clear front-runners: 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, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he would usher through a vote this year, although he has not specified when.

“The Senate has more than sufficient time to process a nomination. History and precedent make that perfectly clear,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Monday.

Democrats have accused McConnell of hypocrisy for being eager to usher a Trump nominee to a confirmation vote. In 2016 he refused even to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the court left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, saying it would be inappropriate to do so during an election year.

“I believe we should wait and see who the winner of the election is and not proceed with a vote,” Collins told reporters on Monday. “If the American people are going to have confidence in the fairness of the system, then I think that is the way that we should proceed.”