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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 McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE's (R-Ky.) vow to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgNYC street and subway signs transformed to welcome Biden, bid farewell to Trump Schumer and McConnell trade places, but icy relationship holds Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader 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 TrumpNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Arizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Biden and UK prime minister discuss NATO, multilateralism during call 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 AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes 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 PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' MORE (R-Ohio) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda 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 MurkowskiTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Murkowski didn't vote for Trump, won't join Democrats Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday MORE (Alaska), the only GOP senator to oppose Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Why we need Section 230 more than ever MORE's nomination, and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief 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 RomneySunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump 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 GrassleyOn The Money: Treasury announces efforts to help people get stimulus payments | Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury | Judge sets ground rules for release of Trump taxes Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury Finance Committee vote on Yellen nomination scheduled for Friday MORE (R-Iowa) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes 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 DainesOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone Biden recommits US to Paris climate accord MORE (R-Mont.), who is running against Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBiden's identity politics do a disservice to his nominees Senate Democrat: Party's message to rural voters is 'really flawed' Ducey to lead Republican governors 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 TillisSenators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Democrats see Georgia as model for success across South MORE (R-N.C.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE (R-Ariz.), Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerLimbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority MORE (R-Ga.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February 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.