President Donald Trump’s push to widen the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority received a boost on Tuesday as a longtime rival, Republican Senator Mitt Romney, said the Senate should move forward with a vote on his replacement for liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Romney’s decision left Democrats with few hopes of blocking Senate confirmation of the Republican president’s third appointment to the high court, which would give it a 6-3 conservative majority. Trump has said he plans to announce his nominee by Saturday.
Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, is one of the few Republicans in Congress willing to criticize Trump, and he even voted to remove him from office in the February impeachment trial.
But the Utah senator dismissed Democratic arguments that the Senate should wait until after voters decide whether to re-elect Trump or chose his Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sunday found that a majority of Americans including many Republicans also wanted the election winner to make the nomination.
“I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the president’s nominee,” Romney said.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Four Republicans would have to join the Democrats in opposing a confirmation vote to block the nomination. Only two have taken that position. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins said the Senate should not consider a nominee this year.
Collins faces a strong challenge from a Democrat aiming to oust her in the November election, when control of the Senate also is at stake.
Ginsburg, a pioneering advocate of gender equality, died last Friday at age 87.
Democrats accuse Republican lawmakers of hypocrisy, pointing out that they refused to even consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat in 2016 because it was an election year.
Romney said that was not a concern for him, as Washington was split between a Democratic president and a Republican Senate that year, while this year Republicans control both.
“My liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court. And that’s not written in the stars,” he told reporters.
Romney also said it would be appropriate for a nation that he described as center-right politically to have a Supreme Court “that reflects center-right points of view.”