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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 McConnellPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Graham calls voting rights bill 'biggest power grab' in history The wild card that might save Democrats in the midterms MORE's (R-Ky.) vow to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgOcasio-Cortez says Breyer should retire from Supreme Court Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Juan Williams: Time for Justice Breyer to go 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 TrumpMaria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' The Memo: The center strikes back Republicans eye Nashville crack-up to gain House seat 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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain 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 PortmanPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Sunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight Manchin compromise proposal a 'federal takeover of the election system,' GOP senator says MORE (R-Ohio) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntCongress barrels toward debt cliff Excellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 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 MurkowskiPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (Alaska), the only GOP senator to oppose Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare in 7-2 ruling MORE's nomination, and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting 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 RomneyPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle 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 GrassleyChuck Grassley 64 percent of Iowans say 'time for someone else' to hold Grassley's Senate seat: poll Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision On The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections MORE (R-Iowa) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 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 DainesGOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE (R-Mont.), who is running against Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBiden 'allies' painting him into a corner Democratic Kansas City, Mo., mayor eyes Senate run Overnight Energy: Climate Summit Day 2 — Biden says US will work with other countries on climate innovation 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 TillisCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (R-N.C.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyDemocrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal McGuire unveils Arizona Senate campaign On The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP MORE (R-Ariz.), Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Herschel Walker skips Georgia's GOP convention Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock MORE (R-Ga.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBiden to host Afghan president at White House on Friday Portman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Sunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight 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.