US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell vowed Friday to hold a vote on a nominee that President Donald Trump names to replace late Supreme Court Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg, despite the looming November election.
The feminist icon’s death on Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer sets up a mammoth battle for the seat she left behind, with Trump potentially moving to nominate a a new justice just weeks before the November 3 vote, and challenger Joe Biden demanding the election be held first, and the winner to pick Ginsburg’s successor.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell, a chief ally of the president in Congress, said in a statement shortly after Ginsburg’s death was announced by the court.
The move would be in direct opposition to Ginsburg’s reported dying wish that she not be replaced “until a new president is installed” in January, 2021.
Such a step would be unprecedented in modern times – and is certain to infuriate Democrats who have already called for McConnell to wait to bring a nomination to the floor until at least January, when control of the White House and Senate could change.
“The voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” Biden told reporters after learning of Ginsburg’s death.
“This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That’s the position the United States Senate must take today.”
Biden was referring to McConnell’s infamous refusal in February 2016 to bring Barack Obama’s nominee to replace late justice Anthony Scalia to the floor – fully 250 days before that year’s election – because it was too close to the vote.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said in a statement released after Scalia’s death.
“Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
The powerful and shrewd Senate tactician addressed the issue in his statement Friday, saying he refused to move on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland because Republicans, already in the majority in 2106, “pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term.”
He added that since the 1880s, “no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.”
Some Democrats have argued that if McConnell successfully holds a vote on Trump’s new nominee, then Democrats – if they manage to win control of the Senate – should move to expand the Supreme Court.