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GOP senators line up in support of Supreme Court vote

The U.S. Supreme Court. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Multiple Republican senators indicated Monday and Tuesday that they won’t stand in the way of a furious effort by the Senate GOP leadership to confirm a nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy before Inauguration Day.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley ended the suspense with a statement Monday night saying there’s no “ambiguity” about what direction for the high court Americans wanted when they voted for President Donald Trump four years ago.

And Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who’s in a tough reelection battle, said a short time later that he also would let the confirmation process move forward, saying in a statement posted to Twitter that he would vote to confirm a “qualified nominee” who is tapped by Trump.

Had Grassley or Gardner joined two other GOP senators in opposing a vote on a nominee, it would have left Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell with an even slimmer margin to win confirmation for the replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have already said the winner of the presidential election should choose the next justice.

The effort to advance received an additional boost today when Utah’s Mitt Romney indicated that he too would support a vote.

McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged Friday to hold a confirmation vote on the Senate floor, but it remains unclear whether he has enough support to do so this year. He also did not specify whether the vote would come before or after the November election.

Grassley said in July that if a Supreme Court justice died this year, he as Judiciary Committee chairman would not hold a hearing on a new nominee because he did not do so in a similar situation in 2016. He is no longer chairman but was four years ago when President Barack Obama unsuccessfully sought the confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“Over the years, and as recently as July, I’ve consistently said that taking up and evaluating a nominee in 2020 would be a decision for the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Majority Leader,” Grassley said in his Monday statement.

“Both have confirmed their intentions to move forward, so that’s what will happen. Once the hearings are underway, it’s my responsibility to evaluate the nominee on the merits, just as I always have. The Constitution gives the Senate that authority, and the American people’s voices in the most recent election couldn’t be clearer. While there was ambiguity about the American people’s will for the direction of the Supreme Court in 2016 under a divided government, there is no such ambiguity in 2020.”

Gardner said that when a president makes a nomination, it’s up to the Senate to decide how to proceed with its duty of advice and consent. “I have and will continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench, and uphold the law. Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm,” he said.

Among other Republican senators, those backing McConnell included Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Arizona’s Martha McSally, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin,  and David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia.

On Monday, Trump announced he was considering five women to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Ginsburg, an icon of the left who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Trump said he would “probably” announce his pick on Saturday and said he hopes the vote will take place before the election. Ginsburg, however, according to her granddaughter, said before her death that it was her “most fervent wish” to not be replaced before Inauguration Day.

Nominees to the high court need a simple majority to win confirmation.

Republicans control 53 seats in the Senate. Opposition from Collins and Murkowski leaves Trump and McConnell with a maximum possibility of 51 GOP votes if the nominee were to come to the Senate floor before Election Day. If they lost another, that would mean Vice President Mike Pence most likely would cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the nominee.

Trump and McConnell could lose yet another vote in support of confirmation this year if Arizona’s McSally loses her special election contest against former astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat. If Kelly wins, he could take office as early as Nov. 30, giving Democrats a key vote against Trump’s nominee and possibly enough votes to block confirmation. Read more