President Donald Trump plans to announce his nominee to the Supreme Court on Saturday, and barring a monumental surprise and despite whatever Democrats devise to delay, she will be on track for confirmation.
Trump had been telling audiences at campaign rallies that he would announce the selection at the end of the week, and in a Tuesday morning tweet he specified that it would come Saturday.
A statement by Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney seemed to end much of the suspense about whether a sufficient number of GOP senators would go along with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to ensure a vote on Trump’s nominee before the end of the year.
“The Constitution gives the President the power to nominate and the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees. Accordingly, I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the President’s nominee,” Romney said. “If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications.”
After issuing his statement, Romney told reporters that he would consider a nominee on the merits, regardless of whether the vote happens before or after the election.
“I’m not going to look at all the hypotheticals that might occur, but I’ve laid out what I intend to do, and that would be not dependent upon the timing. I don’t know whether that decision would be made before or after the election, meaning the final vote would be before or after the election,” Romney said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will undoubtedly move as quickly as possible to gather background resources and schedule confirmation hearings, but it remains to be seen whether a vote would be possible before Election Day on Nov. 3.
Both McConnell and Graham on Tuesday suggested they would wait for Trump to make the nomination to announce the schedule going forward.
“What we do know is what the job is right now. The job right now is, for this well-qualified nominee which I expect we’ll see on Saturday, to be processed in committee and brought to the floor and voted on. And that’s what we anticipate will happen,” McConnell told reporters after the regular Tuesday GOP conference lunch.
Graham said he could get the nominee reported from the committee before Election Day, but the floor strategy would be up to McConnell.
“I’m confident we can have a hearing that will allow the nominee to be submitted to the floor before Election Day. Following the precedents of the Senate, I think we can do that. I’ll tell you more about the hearing when we get a nomination Saturday, if that’s when it is.”
Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have said they are not on board with moving ahead to vote on a nominee at least until the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is known, but they may prove to be outliers in the Senate Republican Conference.
Romney’s decision — following similar announcements by other Republican senators, including Cory Gardner of Colorado — makes it harder to envision a scenario in which Trump’s nominee is not ultimately confirmed. That’s especially true if the pick turns out to be one of the front-runners: Amy Coney Barrett or Barbara Lagoa. Both women have already been confirmed by the Senate to be federal appeals court judges.
Some of the questions now shift to Democrats, who have limited tactical options available to try to interfere with more routine Senate business.
On Tuesday, the minority party began exercising some of those options.
Prior to afternoon votes, Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked for unanimous consent that the Senate Intelligence Committee be authorized to meet during Tuesday’s floor session.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer objected, saying, “Because the Senate Republicans have no respect for the institution, we won’t have business as usual here in the Senate.”
Schumer invoked what’s commonly referred to as the “two-hour rule,” which restricts when Senate committees and subcommittees are allowed to meet to the first two hours of a Senate session or before 2 p.m.
That applies to all committees or subcommittees except for the Appropriations and Budget committees and their subcommittees. It can be waived by procedural moves like asking for unanimous consent. But Schumer is arguing that the GOP has violated the norms of the chamber by rushing through the court nomination.
Rubio noted that the committee had planned to hold an election security hearing with National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina on Tuesday. He also noted that the committee plans to meet with Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Wednesday.
Several Republican senators condemned Schumer’s move, including Maine’s Susan Collins, who said she was “stunned.”
“Sen. Schumer has been saying over and over again that we’re not having enough briefings on election security,” she said. “Here we have one that was going to be today, one that is going to be tomorrow with the DNI, and he is blocking us from meeting.”
Much of the argument, however, will be on the campaign trail, where Democrats who are challenging incumbent Republican senators have been pulling in massive fundraising hauls since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Republicans on Tuesday were focusing much of their fire on Democratic calls for potentially adding seats to the Supreme Court, rather than getting into the specifics of whether a vote would come before or after the election.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a member of the Judiciary Committee, predicted the as-yet-unnamed nominee will eventually win confirmation.
“We do have the votes in the Senate. Once the president has made his nomination, Leader McConnell and Chairman Graham will announce the timeline and what it will be. I look forward to voting for a constitutionalist to take the spot as a justice on the Supreme Court,” Blackburn said on the Fox News Channel.
Trump’s announcement of his nominee to succeed Ginsburg will come one day after the ceremony honoring the late justice in the Capitol, which is set to follow two days of public viewing outdoors across the street at the Supreme Court.
Lindsey McPherson, Chris Cioffi and Kathleen Bever contributed to this report.