The fight over the replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bad Ginsburg will be intense — and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-U.T., could be the deciding factor.
There’s speculation Romney will join establishment Republican senators and back Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s call to delay the confirmation of a new Supreme Court judge until after the inauguration in January 2021.
Should he pull off a win in November, Biden could reward Romney by naming him secretary of state.
Biden hammered President Donald Trump and leading Senate Republicans for trying to rush a replacement. Across the country, pressure mounted on establishment Republican senators to oppose a quick vote to fill the seat.
Biden had urged Republicans to oppose a confirmation vote before the Nov. 3 election. It takes four GOP senators breaking ranks to keep Trump’s nominee off the court. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-A.K., and Susan Collins, R-M.E., have already said they won’t vote for a Trump nominee this year.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-I.A., could also break ranks and join Democrats. He said in 2018 he wouldn’t support a Supreme Court nomination during 2020.
Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly, who is firmly ahead in public polls, could narrow the Republican majority in the Senate as early as Nov. 30 should he unseat Sen. Martha McSally, R-A.Z., in the Arizona special election. McSally was appointed to fill the seat left empty by Sen. John McCain in 2018.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-C.O., could potentially break ranks as well. Gardner is a Republican in an increasingly blue state, and will face pressure by liberals to break with McConnell and Trump.
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Pat Roberts, R-K.S., who isn’t running for re-election, is considered pragmatic institutionalist. He could also back Biden’s call for delay without fear of being punished by voters.
Should any of those scenarios happen, that would leave Romney as the deciding vote.
“Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience,” said Biden, speaking in Philadelphia on Sunday to unnamed Republican senators. “Let the people speak. Cool the flames that have engulfed our country.”
Jamming the nomination through, Biden warned, would amount to an “abuse of power.”
Ginsburg’s death at 87 on Friday upended a presidential campaign that had, until then, focused on the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s economic downturn, and racial unrest that has stoked protests and riots across U.S. cities.
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Trump has said he intends within days to name a woman to succeed the liberal icon. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., was moving ahead swiftly with plans for confirmation hearings and votes.
There is little chance of calm overtaking the historic campaign as early voting progressed and the death toll from the virus neared 200,000 Americans.
Democrats aren’t just relying on establishment senators to block Trump’s nominee, however.
Just before Murkowski joined Collins, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the House having “options” she did not name to stall or prevent the Senate from confirming Ginsburg’s successor to the lifetime job.
“We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now,” Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” The House has no formal role in the confirmation of Supreme Court justices. But Pelosi would not rule out a new round of impeachment proceedings that might divert the Senate’s attention.
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Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. If there were a 50-50 tie, it could be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump has said he is obligated to act as soon as possible and had at least two women in mind for the seat. Most Republicans concurred on the need for speed and one named a practical reason: The nine-member court, argued Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, must be full if called upon to decide the outcome of a disputed presidential election.
But Biden and other Democrats said voters should choose the next president, who should, in turn, pick Ginsburg’s successor. Health care, abortion rights, and religious freedom are on the line, they said.
Biden, who has run on uniting the country after Trump’s divisive tenure, warned against more upheaval.
“The last thing we need is a constitutional crisis that plunges us deeper into the abyss and deeper into the darkness,” he said.
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He acknowledged that if Trump wins, his pick should be approved.
The process for replacing Ginsburg has moved swiftly ahead. On a call with McConnell, R-Ky., late Saturday, Trump mentioned two federal appeals court judges: Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa, according to a person familiar with the private conversation who was not authorized to publicly discuss the call and spoke on condition of anonymity.
To the chants of “Fill that seat,” Trump told supporters at an event Saturday night in North Carolina that he would nominate a woman as soon as this week.
“We win an election and those are the consequences,” said Trump, who then seemed to signal that he’d be willing to accept a vote on his nominee during the lame-duck period after the election. “We have a lot of time. We have plenty of time. We’re talking about January 20th” — when the next president is inaugurated.
Democrats have denounced McConnell’s move to push ahead as hypocritical, pointing out that he refused to call hearings for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, 237 days before the 2016 election.
If the court were to take cases with eight justices, 4-4 ties would revert the decision to a lower court; for instance, the Affordable Care Act could then be struck down by a lower Texas court.
The Associated Press contributed to this article