Saturday, October 31, 2020

Trump appears to secure Senate majority for Supreme Court pick, even before naming one

Sep 23. 2020
The sun sets as people gather to pay respects to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the Supreme Court on Monday, Sept 21, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
The sun sets as people gather to pay respects to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the Supreme Court on Monday, Sept 21, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
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By The Washington Post · · NATIONAL, POLITICS, COURTSLAW, CONGRESS 

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to have secured the votes needed to confirm his Supreme Court nominee days before he even names the candidate, while Senate Republicans began working on plans to hold a final vote on the pick before the Nov. 3 election.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, announced Tuesday that Trump should get to choose a replacement for liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday, regardless of whether he wins in November. With that, Trump appears to have a majority for a vote this year by the GOP-led Senate, unless Republicans defect as the process goes forward. 

Trump said he would name his nominee Saturday from among five female judges and lawyers the White House describes as "textualists and originalists." Some Republicans have announced support without knowing the nominee's identity.

"The Constitution gives the President the power to nominate and the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees," Romney said in a statement. "Accordingly, I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the President's nominee. If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications."

Two of Romney's Republican colleagues - Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - have said the Senate should wait on the vacancy until after the Nov. 3 presidential election. But Romney's support for moving ahead almost certainly ensures that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., can hold a vote on Trump's choice.

Republicans hold a 53-to-47 majority.

The Supreme Court battle comes as Trump continues to trail Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in national and state polls, although the margin is narrowing, amid a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans. The president and his campaign are hoping his court pick will energize Republican voters and convince some still in the undecided column to move toward Trump.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, has emerged as the favorite for the nomination, but some of the president's allies continue to push for Barbara Lagoa, a federal appeals court judge on the 11th Circuit, whom Trump may meet with this week.

On Monday, Barrett met with Trump, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and other aides at the White House, then met alone with the president, according to two White House officials who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss aspects of the confidential selection process.

"Very good interview," one person said of Barrett's discussion with Trump.

Two advisers to the president said that Barrett remained the front-runner, and that Trump was telling others on Tuesday that he was likely to pick her.

But the president has not yet met Lagoa, and some of his advisers are cautioning against making a choice until he interviews her. These people, supportive of Lagoa, hope she can charm the president and cause him to reconsider. 

 

Outside the White House, key Senate Republicans continued to lobby the president directly on his Supreme Court pick. Trump has fielded phone calls from GOP senators such as Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rick Scott of Florida about their respective favored candidates.

Sasse - who has had a rocky relationship with the president - pushed hard for Barrett in a conversation with Trump this week, one of more than a half-dozen discussions he's had lobbying for the 7th Circuit judge. Scott said he spoke with Trump Monday about Lagoa, a favorite in Florida legal circles but a much less known commodity in Washington and among Senate Republicans.

Scott impressed upon Trump that Lagoa would be the first Supreme Court justice from Florida - a must-win state for the president in November - as well as the court's first Cuban American. Picking Lagoa would help Trump politically not just in Florida, but potentially in Arizona and Texas, Scott said.

"But most important, she understands there's three branches of government," Scott said of Lagoa. "The judiciary does not have the right to be activist judges. If you look at her track record in Florida, she was clearly not an activist judge."

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they hold a two-seat majority over Democrats, huddled privately Tuesday morning to begin sketching out the procedural logistics for considering Trump's eventual nominee.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee chairman, said he will announce how the process will work once Trump makes his pick on Saturday.

"I'm confident we can have a hearing that would allow the nominee to be submitted before Election Day," Graham said. "Following the precedents of the Senate, I think we can do that."

Graham is looking at scheduling a confirmation hearing for the week of Oct. 12 and a committee vote near the end of the following week, with a vote on the floor before Halloween, according to two people familiar the emerging plan. This would be an aggressive time frame.

Democrats are largely powerless to stop the GOP from confirming whomever Trump picks, and some had held out hope that Romney would be persuaded to break ranks.

Romney is the only Republican to vote to convict Trump on one of the impeachment charges in the Senate trial this year, and he has criticized the president on other issues. Trump frequently insults Romney as a poor candidate who should have defeated President Barack Obama in 2012 and dismisses him as a "Republican in name only."

Romney was elected to the Senate in 2018, two years after Republicans blocked consideration of Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, for eight months. Republicans then insisted that the seat should not be filled until after the presidential election so that voters would have a say in the court's direction. Now, with a Republican in the White House, they insist that the president is duty-bound to fill the vacancy immediately.

"I came down on the side of the Constitution and precedent as I've studied it and made the decision on that basis," Romney told reporters.

While Republicans and Democrats in Washington made maneuvers concerning the eventual Supreme Court nominee, the Trump and Biden campaigns focused Tuesday on Rust Belt states that the president narrowly won four years ago.

Trump headed to Pennsylvania, while Biden dispatched his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to Michigan.

Trump, who calls Harris a "loser" for her early exit from the Democratic presidential primary, predicted Tuesday that the coming Supreme Court confirmation process would "show how incompetent she is."

Harris is a member of the Judiciary Committee that will hold the hearings. In past confirmation proceedings and other judiciary hearings, Harris has proved to be an aggressive questioner.

In another tweet Tuesday morning, Trump also confirmed plans to unveil his nominee Saturday at the White House. He had previously said the announcement might be Friday. He has said he is considering only female candidates, preserving the makeup of three women and six men in place before Ginsburg's death.

Trump has made the nomination central to his reelection campaign, a chance to deliver a solid conservative majority on the court that the Republican base, in particular evangelical voters, has coveted for decades. The Supreme Court nomination also gives Trump a welcome counterpoint to the election focus on his handling of the pandemic.

Biden leads Trump by eight percentage points nationally, 51 percent to 43 percent, according to a Washington Post average of polls. Biden's margin is the same in Michigan and smaller in other key states: seven points in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

A poll released Tuesday shows Trump and Biden in a dead heat in Georgia, a state Trump carried by five percentage points four years ago, as well as a pair of tight U.S. Senate races.

Trump and Biden both draw the support of 47 percent of likely voters, according to the poll, conducted for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the University of Georgia's School of Public and International Affairs.

In 2016, Trump carried the state over Democrat Hillary Clinton, 50.4% to 45.4%.

 

 

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