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McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight

Republican senators are coalescing behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE's (R-Ky.) vow to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgMcConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid Dozens of legal experts throw weight behind Supreme Court term limit bill MORE

A number of GOP senators, including both retiring members and vulnerable incumbents, are backing McConnell's promise to hold a vote on whomever President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE nominates, underscoring Republicans' desire to fill the seat even as they face charges of hypocrisy from Democrats and pushback from some of their own colleagues. 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Two weeks out, Trump attempts to rally the base McConnell aims for unity amid growing divisions with Trump Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas MORE (R-Tenn.), who is retiring at the end of the year, said on Sunday that he would support filling the seat this year, though he'll make a decision on the nominee once Trump names his pick.  

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"No one should be surprised that a Republican Senate majority would vote on a Republican President’s Supreme Court nomination, even during a presidential election year. ... Senator McConnell is only doing what Democrat leaders have said they would do if the shoe were on the other foot," Alexander said in a statement. 

Alexander's decision follows similar remarks from Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham wants to review ActBlue's source of small-dollar contributions GOP blocks Schumer effort to adjourn Senate until after election Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety MORE (R-Ohio) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPower players play chess match on COVID-19 aid GOP to Trump: Focus on policy Low-flying helicopters to measure radiation levels in DC before inauguration MORE (R-Mo.), who both indicated they would support McConnell if he moves to hold a vote on confirming a third Supreme Court pick for Trump. Neither is up for reelection this year.

Portman, in a statement, noted that McConnell intended to hold a vote and that "I intend to fulfill my role as a U.S. Senator and judge that nominee based on his or her merits." Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, added to CBS's "Face the Nation" that there was "plenty of time" for Republicans to confirm a nominee this year. 

"The White House and the Senate have some obligation to do what they think in the majority in the Senate is the right thing to do. And there is a Senate majority put there by voters for reasons like this," he said. 

The decision by Portman, Blunt and Alexander to align with McConnell and Trump highlights the narrowing pool of GOP senators Democrats could flip in order to block Republicans from filling the seat in the middle of an election year. 

Republicans still face a decision on whether they should try to squeeze in the nomination before the election day or in the end-of-year lame-duck session, something that is likely to be discussed at a leadership meeting on Monday night and a caucus lunch on Tuesday.  

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"I’m for whatever gives us the best opportunity to confirm a conservative to the court while giving us the best chance of keeping the Senate and White House," Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told The Hill on Saturday. "[But] I suspect we will have a long discussion about it Tuesday."  

So far, two GOP senators — Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote Democrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination MORE (Alaska), the only GOP senator to oppose Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughCollins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' Clean energy opportunities in a time of crisis Susan Collins and the American legacy MORE's nomination, and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Collins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote MORE (Maine), who is facing a tough reelection bid — have said they do not believe the Senate should take up the Supreme Court nomination before the Nov. 3 election, which is 44 days away. 

"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," Murkowski said on Sunday. 

Collins, in a statement on Saturday, said the appointment "should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd." 

But Democrats will need at least two more GOP senators to oppose moving a Supreme Court nominee before the election to give them a fighting chance of keeping the seat open until next year. 

Alexander and Portman, in particular, were considered potential votes to watch. Alexander, though a McConnell ally, is considered an institutionalist and is retiring, freeing him from the guaranteed political blowback that would come from Trump and his supporters for wanting to delay a Supreme Court vote. Portman, meanwhile, has had breaks with Trump over high-profile issues including the emergency declaration for the border wall. 

Their decisions don't close the door for Democrats altogether, but they underscore the uphill battle Democrats are likely to face.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRatings drop to 55M for final Trump-Biden debate Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election MORE (R-Utah), the party's 2012 presidential nominee, is considered another lawmaker to watch. He is one of the president's most vocal critics within the caucus and is viewed as a potential swing vote. He was the only GOP senator to vote for one of the articles of impeachment earlier this year.  

But even if Romney comes out in support of not holding a vote before the election, Democrats still would need to pick up one additional GOP senator to prevent a 50-50 tie that Vice President Pence would be all but guaranteed to break. 

In addition to Romney, Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Grassley: Voters should be skeptical of Biden's pledge to not raise middle class taxes GOP to Trump: Focus on policy MORE (R-Iowa) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Democrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave MORE (R-Colo.) are both considered votes to watch. 

Grassley, a current member and the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said earlier this year that "in the abstract, I would do the same thing in 2020 that I would in 2016" if a Supreme Court vacancy occurred this year. His statement released in the wake of Ginsburg's death did not address what the Senate should do if Trump nominates someone to fill her seat. 

Gardner also did not address what the Senate should do. He declined to say, when questioned while speaking before a business group on Saturday, if he stood by his 2016 comments that whoever won the 2016 election should appoint the successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat. 

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Gardner's sidestepping comes as several other vulnerable GOP incumbents have endorsed holding a vote this year, further reducing the pool of swing votes for Democrats. 

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is running for a second term, said on Sunday that the Senate should act on the nomination, painting the Supreme Court battle as a central difference between himself and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.

"Once the President announces a nomination, the United States Senate should begin the process that moves this to a full Senate vote," Perdue said.

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesDemocrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll Poll shows statistical tie in Montana Senate race Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Mont.), who is running against Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockInterior says Pendley to remain at BLM despite 'dramatic tweets' from Democrats Democrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll Poll shows statistical tie in Montana Senate race MORE (D), added in his own statement that the Senate "should move forward with confirming President Trump's nominee." 

Perdue and Daines join GOP Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP coronavirus bill blocked as deal remains elusive Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave Cunningham, Tillis locked in tight race in North Carolina: poll MORE (R-N.C.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyMark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave Cunningham, Tillis locked in tight race in North Carolina: poll MORE (R-Ariz.), Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerBlackPAC rolls out Senate race endorsements for the first time Republicans scramble to shore up support in Ga. as Democrats gain Democrats make gains in Georgia Senate races: poll MORE (R-Ga.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid MORE (R-S.C.), who are all on the ballot in November and have called for the Senate to act on Trump's forthcoming nomination. 

Graham, in a tweet linking to his campaign fundraising page, said he was "dead set" on confirming whomever Trump picks. 

"I will support President @realDonaldTrump in any effort to move forward regarding the recent vacancy created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg," he added in a separate tweet.

Scott Wong contributed to this report.