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Election Updates: Biden and Trump React to Ginsburg’s Death

  • September 19, 2020
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would move forward with President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said late Friday that he would move forward with President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

“Americans re-elected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Mr. McConnell was notably unclear, however, about the timing, whether he would push for such a vote before the election or wait until a lame-duck session afterward. Several of his members face tough election contests and might balk at seeming to rush a nominee through in such highly political conditions.

Senator Susan M. Collins of Maine, the most endangered Republican incumbent, told The New York Times earlier this month that she would not favor voting on a new justice in October. “I think that’s too close, I really do,” she said.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told Alaska Public Media, during an interview Friday shortly before the announcement of Justice Ginsburg’s death, that she opposed confirming a new justice before the election. “I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee,” she said. “We are 50 some days away from an election.”

Ms. Murkowski called Justice Ginsburg a “true leader and pioneer” in a statement released Friday night. “She has been a champion and crusader for equal justice and civil liberties and has made an enduring mark on history,” Ms. Murkowski said.

Her statement made no reference to appointing a replacement.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that would consider any nominee, told an interviewer in 2018 that if an opening occurred in the last year of Mr. Trump’s term “we’ll wait to the next election.” Mr. Graham, who is in a competitive race of his own, made no mention of the matter in a statement he issued Friday night mourning Justice Ginsburg.

There was immediate reaction from a few Republican senators calling for a quick confirmation and vote before Election Day.

“I believe that the president should next week nominate a successor to the court, and I think it is critical that the Senate takes up and confirms that successor before Election Day,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said during an interview on Fox News. “This nomination is why Donald Trump was elected.”

Senators Martha McSally of Arizona and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, two of the most endangered Republican senators facing re-election, each posted statements to Twitter calling for the Senate to vote on Justice Ginsburg’s replacement.

Still, stunned Republicans expressed initial skepticism on Friday night that Mr. McConnell would find enough votes to confirm a new justice in the weeks before the election. And some of them thought Mr. McConnell would also be unable to do so in a lame-duck session if Republicans lose the White House and control of the Senate.

Two former Senate Republican leadership aides close to Mr. McConnell read the concluding sentence of his statement — “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate” — to mean that he was not committed to pushing through the confirmation before the election and may wait until the lame-duck session.

Privately, some party strategists warned that if Democrats won the presidency and the Senate and Republicans seated a new justice before Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the new Senators were sworn in, Democrats would exact retribution by ending the filibuster and moving to pack the Supreme Court.

Democrats, for their part, moved swiftly to warn Republicans against a hasty confirmation process — echoing Mr. McConnell’s own comments from 2016.

“While no one will ever truly be able to replace Justice Ginsburg, a new president should fill the vacancy,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “Just like Mitch McConnell said.”

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