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Romney backs pre-election Supreme Court vote, paving way for McConnell, Trump

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Additional airlines ban guns on flights to DC ahead of inauguration Ben Shapiro stirs controversy by guest writing Politico newsletter MORE (R-Utah) signaled on Tuesday that he is open to confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year, solidifying GOP support for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump seeks to freeze .4 billion of programs in final week of presidency McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Murkowski blasts Trump's election claims, calls House impeachment appropriate MORE's (R-Ky.) vow to hold a vote on President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-Trump lawyer Cohen to pen forward for impeachment book Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again Man known as 'QAnon Shaman' asks Trump for pardon after storming Capitol MORE's nominee.

“The Constitution gives the President the power to nominate and the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees. Accordingly, I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the President’s nominee. If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications," Romney said in a statement.

Romney's decision is a blow to Senate Democrats and a boon to McConnell, with both sides watching him closely as a potential swing vote on bringing up whomever Trump nominates to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader Ginsburg, George Floyd among options for 'Remember the Titans' school's new name Bipartisan anger builds over police failure at Capitol Lindsey Graham praises Merrick Garland as 'sound choice' to serve as attorney general MORE's seat just weeks before a presidential election.

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McConnell has essentially locked down support within his 53-member caucus to move a Supreme Court nominee this year, laying the groundwork for an explosive fight that critics warn could lead to an overhaul of the Senate. McConnell has not said if he will try to move a nomination before or after the election.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneStreamlining the process of prior authorization for medical and surgical procedures McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Republicans eye primaries in impeachment vote MORE (R-S.D.), McConnell's No. 2, said on Tuesday after Romney's announcement that he personally supports moving Trump's nominee before the election, but the decision on timing will need to be discussed with the caucus during a closed-door lunch later Tuesday

“Speaking for me personally? Yes. I think it would be a good idea for us to move forward. But obviously we have a lot of different members who might have different positions. We’ll get an assessment of that. At least we’re hearing from everybody, everybody wants to move forward," Thune said. 

Thune added that leadership has been talking with members since Friday night.

"I think people are very supportive of the idea of moving forward. In terms of the timing, that’s still up in the air," he said.

With 53 members, Republicans could lose three senators and still let Vice President Pence break a tie on a Supreme Court nomination. If Pence breaks a tie, that would be the first time a vice president has had to weigh in on a Supreme Court pick.

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So far only two GOP senators have said they do not support moving a nomination before the Nov. 3 election: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Murkowski blasts Trump's election claims, calls House impeachment appropriate MORE (Alaska).

To stop McConnell successfully, Democrats will need four GOP senators to side against him, an uphill battle given the growing partisanship over the courts, which is a top issue for the Republican base.

And the pool of GOP senators who could side with Democrats on the process argument appears to have closed. Several Republicans considered vulnerable this fall, including Sens. 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 (Colo.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Military survivors of child sex abuse deserve more NASA selects the next Artemis moonwalkers while SpaceX flies a Starship MORE (Iowa), have signaled they are on board with McConnell's plan, though they've said that they will make a decision on confirmation once Trump nominates a judge.

Republicans have a matter of weeks if they want to confirm Trump’s nominee before the election. The president isn’t expected to name his pick until Saturday, which will be 38 days before Nov. 3. According to the Congressional Research Service, the average number of days from nomination to final Senate vote is 69.6. 

But there are vocal supporters within the caucus of getting Trump’s nominee through the Senate before November, and risks to waiting until the lame-duck session, which would raise new questions if Republicans lose the Senate majority or Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenConfirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed Biden's Sunday inauguration rehearsal postponed due to security concerns: report Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again MORE wins the White House. 

“I've seen this move before. It's not going to work. ... We've got the votes to confirm Justice Ginsburg's replacement before the election,” Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Additional airlines ban guns on flights to DC ahead of inauguration Graham congratulates former rival Harrison on being picked to lead DNC MORE (R-S.C.) told Fox News on Monday night.

Romney had been expected to wait until after the closed-door caucus lunch to make his decision ahead of announcing his decision.

But the former governor told reporters on Tuesday morning that he had spoken to a number of his colleagues.

"I recognize that we may have a court that has more of a conservative bent ... but 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 said.

Romney declined to talk about hypotheticals, including how he would handle a Supreme Court nominee during a lame-duck if Democrats win back the majority in November or if Biden takes the White House.

Democrats have accused Republicans of hypocrisy for being willing to move Trump's forthcoming nominee weeks before the election when they refused to move then-President Obama's final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandBiden's new challenge: Holding Trump accountable Graham says he'll back Biden's CIA pick A Democratic agenda for impossibly hard times MORE, months before the 2016 election.

Republicans have argued, and Romney appeared to agree on Tuesday, that the difference between divided government between the Senate and White House in 2016 and unified control of the Senate and the White House in 2020 is a key distinction.

“My decision regarding a Supreme Court nomination is not the result of a subjective test of ‘fairness’ which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is based on the immutable fairness of following the law, which in this case is the Constitution and precedent. The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own," Romney said in his statement.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid Trump calls for 'NO violence' amid concerns of threats around inauguration Amazon cites death threats in push to keep Parler offline MORE (D-N.Y.) ripped into Republicans and Trump from the Senate on floor on Tuesday, arguing that they were violating the “McConnell rule,” after refusing to give Garland a hearing or a vote.

"Leader McConnell has defiled the Senate like no one in this generation, and Leader McConnell may very well destroy it,” Schumer said. 

Updated at 10:56 a.m.