On Saturday, Senator Lisa Murkowski said that the Senate should not take up a Supreme Court nomination before the election, becoming the second GOP senator to voice opposition to a vote before Nov. 3.
“For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed,” Murkowski said in a statement.
“I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Scalia. We are now even closer to the 2020 election – less than two months out – and I believe the same standard must apply,” she added.
Murkowski’s statement comes after fellow moderate GOP Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on Saturday that she also believed the Senate should not vote on a Supreme Court nomination before the election, though she opened the door to the Senate Judiciary Committee holding a hearing in the intervening weeks.
“In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd,” Collins said.
Neither Collins nor Murkowski directly addressed in their statements how they would view an attempt to confirm a Supreme Court nominee during the end-of-year lame duck session.
Murkowski’s position, while a win by Democrats, was largely expected. She indicated over the summer that she would not support moving a Supreme Court nominee in the final weeks before the election and reiterated that decision as recently as Friday, hours before news of the death of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50 some days away from an election,” she said on Friday, according to Alaska Public Media.
But Ginsburg’s death has added a new reality into the years-long debate over how Republicans would handle an election-year Supreme Court vacancy under a Trump White House.
It also injected fresh chaos into an already historic election year, which has seen both an impeachment trial and a pandemic, just weeks before Nov. 3 and as some voters are already heading to the polls.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to give whomever President Trump nominates a vote, and the president is expected to name his pick in a matter of days.
But McConnell has not weighed in on the timing. If he wants to hold a vote before the election, he will need to hold together at least 50 of his 53 members, which would let Vice President Pence break a tie.
That means in addition to Collins and Murkowski, Democrats need to win over at least two additional GOP senators.
GOP strategists believe squeezing in a vote before the election could provide Trump with one final victory to trumpet in the final days before Nov. 3. And waiting until the lame duck isn’t without risks given Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s lead in most polls.
Senator Ted Cruz, who was on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court picks, is pushing his Republican colleagues to vote on whomever the president selects before the election. He predicted on Sunday that Republicans will have the votes to confirm Trump’s pick.
“We need a full court on Election Day given the very high likelihood that we’re going to see litigation that goes to the court,” he told host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”
Members of McConnell’s leadership team were careful, during TV interviews on Sunday, to sidestep if they would push for a vote before the November election or wait until the end of the year.
“We will hold hearings, and there will be a vote on the floor of the United States Senate this year,” Senator John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican senator, told NBC News’ “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.”
Senator Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, didn’t rule out a vote before the election but noted that “to get it done before Election Day everything has to work I think pretty precisely.”
Democrats have called for Ginsburg’s seat to be kept open until next year, when it would be filled by who wins in November.
But if Republicans stick together they will largely be powerless to prevent Trump and McConnell from filling the seat.
In addition to Collins and Murkowski, Democrats need at least two other GOP senators to say the nomination should wait until after the election, and vote against GOP leadership if they try to move Trump’s pick before November 3.
Senator Chris Coons who has close ties to some GOP senators, told Fox News Sunday that he would be reaching out to Republican colleagues about the looming Supreme Court fight.
“I’m going to be working this weekend, this week to reach across the aisle and see if I can persuade some friends to respect tradition, to respect the precedent they set in 2016 and to let the voters decide,” he said.