Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked then-President Barack Obama from filling a high court seat during his final year in office following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. The Kentucky Republican has put up with Mr Trump’s antics since he took office largely because the president has been more than willing to nominate McConnell-preferred conservative federal judges. Now, the duo have a chance to give the Supreme Court a 6-3 conservative lean for years to come.
Mr McConnell made his intentions clear last May when he was asked about a vacant seat in the final year of Mr Trump’s term.
“Oh, we’d fill it,” he said during an appearance in his home state. He was even more clear in a Friday night statement: “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
Mr Trump also has indicated he would be inclined to nominate a conservative this year, even as polls show him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden nationally and in key presidential battleground states.
Around the same time, Mr Trump told interviewers he would set off an election-year confirmation battle.
“Would I do that? Of course,” the president said, contending the Democrats would have pushed federal judge Merrick Garland onto the high court in Mr Obama’s final year had they had a Senate majority.
“They couldn’t get him approved. That’s the other problem because they didn’t have the Senate. If they had the Senate, they would have done it,” Mr Trump said of the Democrats.
“It depends. I mean, we have the Senate. We have a great Senate. We have great people. If we could get him approved, I would definitely do it,” the president insisted. “No, I’d do it a lot sooner than that. I’d do it. If there were three days left, I’d put somebody up hoping that I could get ’em done in three days, OK?”
White House officials signalled on Friday night they expect the president will select a nominee and do whatever he can to put his third conservative justice on the highest court in the land.
Democrats in the Senate immediately sounded alarm at a president possibly headed towards a defeat creating a very conservative Supreme Court when the Senate majority party is at risk of losing control of the chamber. Mr McConnell in recent weeks has made clear he is unsure Republicans will control the Senate come January.
The Senate’s top Democrat sounded off soon after Ms Ginsburg passed. But it is not yet clear if Democrats can block a simple-majority vote.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote on Twitter.
Sources and analysts on Friday night said they expect a vicious confirmation fight, and manoeuvring by Senate Democrats to try delaying a final vote on Ms Ginsburg’s replacement until a new Senate is seated in early January. That new Senate could be controlled by Democrats.
That would mean Mr Schumer would be able to block any nominee Mr Trump, should he win re-election, send to Capitol Hill. If he could hold all of his Democrats in line, that is.
It took around 60 days for now-Justice Neil Gorsuch to move from his nomination to confirmation. There are just 45 days (as of Saturday) until Election Day. That would test the Washington system’s ability to vet, pick and run through the typical confirmation process checklist. That includes meetings with each senator and weeks-long prep by all sides for public hearings with the nominee.
As all of that plays, the bitter partisanship and gamesmanship would play out as Mr Trump and Mr Biden fight it out on the campaign trail.
Ms Ginsburg’s death now gives Mr Trump and Mr Biden a powerful new talking point to try firing up their respective bases. Analysts say Republicans typically think more about the high court than Democratic voters, meaning the vacancy could help the president.
While almost all of the political drama will be between Republicans and Democrats, Mr McConnell and the president might have some work to do with vulnerable GOP senators.
“So the question is are there a few Republicans that will refuse to go along with confirming a new justice days before an election and or in a post election lame duck session,” Democratic strategist Jim Manley tweeted.
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