Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot

Senate Republicans see a Supreme Court confirmation vote before Election Day as a big political boost that could help them retain their majority in November.

The GOP senators hope it could have the same kind of impact as the 2018 battle over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which they believe helped their party knock off four Democratic incumbents during a midterm cycle when the party lost the House.

“Very honestly, we think the Democrats are in the wrong spot on this particular issue,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who attended the meeting.

He said Democrats have played into GOP hands given calls from the left to kill the legislative filibuster or add seats to the Supreme Court if the party takes power.

“We think when they start talking about their threats, about what they would do if we continue to proceed with this, we don’t think that’s the spot where they’re going to want to be in,” he added.

At a luncheon meeting on Tuesday, there was little worry about a backlash over quickly filling the seat held by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday. That’s despite charges of hypocrisy from Democrats, who note the GOP blocked a nominee of President Obama’s from a vote eight months before an election.

“The only discussion was when the vote should occur and there was no decision made,” said one Republican senator who attended the meeting.

The senator said lawmakers at the closed-door meeting argued that politically it was better to have the high-stakes and controversial vote in October, suggesting there could be cold feet after the election.

“People said it’s just better while we have the Republican majority, just to be sure,” the source added.

No one in the room rose up to argue against a vote before Election Day, several GOP senators said.

A second Republican senator who attended the meeting said there is a growing consensus among colleagues that a Supreme Court fight before Election Day will rev up conservative voters and have little negative impact among swing voters.

“The consensus of the people I’ve talked to is [to have the vote] before [the election] and not after,” said the lawmaker. “Everybody who analyzes this figures out the country is so divided, you don’t lose much. People are where they are.”

The lawmaker acknowledged that this in itself show how polarized the nation’s politics have become.

“In earlier politics there would have been a lot of thought about the appearance. What’s the protocol, what’s the precedent?” the senator said.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted to convict Trump and remove him from office during his impeachment trial earlier this year, said Tuesday that he would vote on a Trump nominee “based upon their qualifications,” ending any doubt over whether Republicans would have the votes to move forward.

Only two Senate Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), are objecting to holding a vote on a Supreme Court nominee so close to the election.

Tuesday’s meeting took place at the National Republican Senatorial Committee building. The senators discussed the Senate battleground map and the need for GOP senators to kick more money into the Senate Republican fundraising committee from their personal campaign accounts.

At least a few GOP senators feel some uneasiness about appearing to rush to confirm a new justice to the high court only days after Ginsburg’s death.

“The appearance of having this conversation so soon after a death isn’t the way I was raised,” the second GOP senator said, adding that colleagues are talking about the importance “of being methodical or appearing to be methodical.”

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said after the meeting there is overwhelming support within the GOP conference to confirm Trump’s pick, a consensus that has been reflected by senators’ public statements since Saturday.

“Most of our members, a big majority — hopefully an overwhelming majority — are intent on proceeding and moving forward,” he said. “At this point our conference is committed to moving forward.”

Thune, however, said a decision on whether to have a final confirmation vote before Election Day will depend on whom Trump nominates and how the Senate Judiciary Committee’s document review and hearings play out.

“It’s going to depend upon giving fair consideration and due process to whoever the nominee is,” he said.

He also noted the importance of decorum: “It’s important that we proceed in a way that’s obviously respectful to the nominee and to the process that’s been put in place.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday that he plans to finish hearings and a committee vote in time to seat Trump’s nominee on the court before Election Day.

Graham on Tuesday said he would announce the starting date for hearings, which are expected to span four days, after Trump announces his pick on Saturday.

Republican senators say a Supreme Court vote before the elections will be especially helpful to incumbents running in states where they expect Trump to beat Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, such as Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana and South Carolina.

They acknowledge that two of their colleagues, Collins and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), are likely to suffer political damage from the vote.

“The reality is this probably isn’t good for Susan Collins and Cory Gardner,” a third senator said.

Both are running in states that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and that Biden is favored to carry.

Collins said Tuesday she would vote against anyone who comes to the floor before Election Day.

“I made it very clear, yes, that I did not think there should be a vote prior to the election. And if there is one, I would oppose the nominee, not because I might not support that nominee under normal circumstances, but we’re simply too close to the election,” she said, referring to a public statement released Saturday.

Tags Arizona Brett Kavanaugh Colorado Cory Gardner Filibuster Hillary Clinton Joe Biden John Thune Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Maine Mike Rounds Mitt Romney Montana North Carolina Ruth Bader Ginsburg senate elections Supreme Court Susan Collins

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