Republicans plan a speedy confirmation process for President Donald Trump’s pick to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, proceeding on the assumption they’ll support someone whose name has not yet been announced and submitted to the Senate.
Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t laid out a schedule yet, Republicans are aiming to hold a final vote on a nominee to replace the liberal icon shortly before the Nov. 3 election, according to The Associated Press. Two weeks of confirmation hearings would occur sometime in mid-October.
That timeline would be extremely aggressive compared with the process for recent Supreme Court appointments, including the two previously made by Trump. The Senate did not begin hearings for Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017 until 47 days after his nomination was announced. It did not begin hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 until 56 days after his nomination was announced.
Republicans serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is tasked with vetting judicial nominees, defended proceeding with a truncated schedule that would provide only two weeks for preparations for the hearings after Trump reveals his pick on Saturday.
“For me, it would be,” Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said when asked by reporters on Tuesday if proceeding with hearings next month would allow him enough time to prepare. The senator added that the schedule could be altered.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee also said she was fine with speedy action on the nominee, saying, “We’re going to get our nominee. We’ll do our hearings.”
Trump has openly admitted he wants to fill the vacancy before the Nov. 3 election because he thinks the Supreme Court will have to weigh in on a disputed election, suggesting he plans to take legal action if the results show he has lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
“This scam that the Democrats are pulling ... will be before the Supreme Court, and I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation,” Trump said at an event at the White House on Wednesday, referring to mail-in voting he has repeatedly and falsely attacked as illegitimate.
Democrats know they can do little procedurally to stop Trump’s nominee from being confirmed in the face of what appears to be a mostly united GOP Senate caucus, but they’re planning on fighting anyway ― or at least trying to show supporters they’re putting up a fight.
After it quickly became clear following Ginsburg’s death of Friday that Trump, McConnell and the vast majority of other Senate Republicans would push to quickly fill her seat, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been loudly arguing that they are “destroying the institution” by confirming a justice in a presidential election year ― something they objected to and successfully thwarted in 2016, when Barack Obama was president.
On Tuesday, Schumer invoked an obscure rule that allows any senator to prevent committees from meeting two hours after the chamber comes into session each day. He said that business as usual in the Senate shouldn’t continue so long as Republicans wanted to proceed with the confirmation effort.
He dropped the objection on Wednesday after Republicans cried foul about senators not being able to receive an election security briefing from Trump administration officials that Schumer had previously demanded.
A senior Democratic aide said Schumer, in backing away from his procedural ploy, also wanted to “highlight the Trump administration’s bungled federal response” to the coronavirus pandemic during a Wednesday hearing in the Senate health committee that featured Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top health officials.
“And there comes a point, we use whatever tools we have available, but ultimately there will be a vote.”
Schumer’s reversal highlights the debate among Democrats as they gear up for the Supreme Court fight. Some support grinding the Senate to a halt and boycotting the entire confirmation process as illegitimate out of the principle Republicans laid out in 2016 when they blocked Obama’s high court nominee. Others favor grilling Trump’s nominee on the issues and frame their confirmation as hugely consequential for health care, women’s rights, the environment, and other top issues ― all with an eye to influencing the looming election.
So far, the latter strategy seems to be winning out within the Democratic caucus.
“I’ve been around here a few years; you can slow things down but you can’t stop them” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. “And there comes a point, we use whatever tools we have available, but ultimately there will be a vote.”
Durbin, who sits on the Judiciary Committee that would hold the confirmation hearings, said he did not support boycotting that process. He called the hearings an opportunity to demonstrate to the public the nominee’s views on important topics.
Another Democratic committee member, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, agreed that procedural tactics wouldn’t block confirmation of Trump’s nominee. “I don’t think there’s like a triple secret tactic that we’ve been keeping in our back pocket since Gorsuch and Kavanaugh that we haven’t used yet,” he told HuffPost.
Still, Democrats are expected to employ every parliamentary trick they can to try to slow the confirmation process and put a spotlight on the GOP hypocrisy.
On Wednesday, Schumer made a parliamentary inquiry on the Senate floor, asking if historical precedent existed for a Supreme Court nominee being confirmed between the month of July and Election Day.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), the presiding officer at the time, said records “do not show such a precedent,” yielding Democrats a rhetorical win, at least.
Democrats could seek to delay a committee vote on the nominee by one week using a privilege customarily granted to the minority. That, in turn, would delay the full Senate vote. But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the committee’s chairman, may not decide to follow that custom.
The general consensus among Republicans is that it is more politically advantageous for Trump and the party’s other candidates got a final vote on the nominee to occur before the election.
“There are things in here that they’re clearly just going to sweep aside,” Durbin told reporters on Wednesday. “They’re hell-bent on getting this done as fast as possible. They think it helps Donald Trump get re-elected.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Democrats’ hands were tied to a large degree because of the power Graham wields as committee chairman.
“There’s no legitimacy to it, no matter who the nominee is there. This process has been robbed of legitimacy,” he told HuffPost.
Asked why, then, Democrats should plan on participating in the confirmation hearings, he said, “Because we have to fight. Ruth Bader Ginsburg never gave up. Neither should we.”