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Senate GOP plans vote on court pick before election

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives to meet with reporters following a Republican strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Republican efforts to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are likely to move swiftly this week, with President Donald Trump possibly nominating a replacement within days and GOP senators hoping to jump-start the confirmation process. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Votes in hand, Senate Republicans are charging ahead with plans to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat before the Nov. 3 election, launching a divisive fight over Democratic objections before a nominee is even announced.

Trump said Tuesday he will name his choice Saturday, confident of support. Democrats say it’s too close to the election, and the winner of the presidency should name the new justice. But under GOP planning, the Senate could vote Oct. 29.

“I guess we have all the votes we’re going to need,” Trump told WJBX FOX 2 in Detroit. “I think it’s going to happen.”

Republicans believe the court fight will energize voters for Trump, boosting the party and potentially deflating Democrats who cannot stop the lifetime appointment for a conservative justice . The Senate is controlled by Republicans, 53-47, with a simple majority needed for confirmation. The one remaining possible Republican holdout, Mitt Romney of Utah, said Tuesday he supports taking a vote.

Still, with early presidential voting already underway in several states, all sides are girding for a wrenching Senate battle over health care, abortion access and other big cases before the court and sure to further split the torn nation.

It is one of the quickest confirmation efforts in recent times. No court nominee in U.S. history has been considered so close to a presidential election. And it all comes as the nation is marking the grave milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

During a private lunch meeting Tuesday at Senate GOP campaign headquarters, several Republican senators spoke up in favor of voting before the election. None advocated a delay.

Elsewhere, as tributes poured in for Ginsburg with vigils and flowers at the court’s steps, Democrats led by presidential nominee Joe Biden vowed a tough fight. The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said “we should honor her dying wish,” which was that her seat not be filled until the man who wins the presidential election is installed, in January.

But that seemed no longer an option. So far, two Republicans have said they oppose taking up a nomination at this time, but no others are in sight. Under Senate rules, Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie vote.

While not all Republican senators have said they will support the eventual pick, few appear willing to stand in the way of a top party priority.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made no scheduling announcements. But hearings could start as soon as Oct. 12 by the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a vote in the full Senate by Oct. 29, according to a GOP aide granted anonymity to discuss deliberations.

After Trump met with conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday he told reporters he would interview other candidates and might meet with Judge Barbara Lagoa when he travels to Florida later this week. Conversations in the White House and McConnell’s office have been increasingly focused on Barrett and Lagoa, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.

Barrett, 48, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, has long been favored by conservatives. Those familiar with the process said interest inside the White House seemed to be waning for Lagoa amid concerns she did not have a proven record as a conservative jurist. Lagoa has been pushed by Florida’s governor, and aides tout her political advantages of being Hispanic and hailing from the key political battleground state.

Democrats point to hypocrisy in Republicans trying to rush through a pick so close to the election after McConnell led the GOP in refusing to vote on a nominee of President Barack Obama in February 2016, long before that year’s election.

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