Four years after refusing to hold hearings or a vote on an election year nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama, Republicans in the U.S. Senate signaled Friday night that they would push ahead with a vote on a nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a written statement.
It was not immediately clear whether McConnell would call for a vote before the November 3 elections, or afterwards in a lame duck session.
Republicans hold 53 seats in the Senate. They could afford to lose three Senators, and still would have 50 - plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence - to confirm any Supreme Court nomination from President Trump.
“I believe that the President should next week nominee a successor to the court, and I think it is critical that the Senate takes up and confirms that successor before Election Day,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Fox News on Friday night.
Attention quickly centered on a series of GOP Senators, who are either in tough re-election races - like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) - or who have crossed swords with President Trump - like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), or have expressed reservations about such a vote - like Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
It would take four GOP rebels voting against a Supreme Court nominee to sink any choice of President Trump, as Democrats are powerless to do anything about it.
“Mitch McConnell set the precedent,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). “No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year.”
“We should honor her final wish that she should be replaced only after the next presidential inauguration,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) of Ginsburg.
A Democratic Party group which focuses on judicial matters quickly moved to take the battle over the Ginsburg seat to the airwaves, recalling the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings or a vote on Obama nominee Merrick Garland in 2016.
After Republicans changed the Senate rules in 2017 to do away with filibusters against Supreme Court nominees, Democrats have no options to stop a Trump nomination.