PHILADELPHIA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden urged Senate Republicans not to vote on any candidate nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court as the November election nears, calling President Donald Trump’s plan an “exercise of raw political power.”
A second Senate Republican on Sunday voiced objections to Trump’s plan for a quick vote on a replacement to liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday. Such an appointment by the president, if approved by the Senate, would cement a 6-3 conservative majority that could influence American law and life for decades.
“Voters of this country should be heard … they’re the ones who this Constitution envisions should decide who has the power to make this appointment,” Biden, who leads Trump in national opinion polls, said in Philadelphia. “To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise of raw political power.”
Biden said that if he wins the Nov. 3 election, he should have the chance to nominate the next Supreme Court justice.
The former vice president rejected the idea of releasing the names of potential nominees, saying that doing so, as Trump did, could improperly influence those candidates’ decisions in their current court roles as well as subject them to “unrelenting political attacks.”
He reiterated his pledge to nominate an African-American woman to the court, which would be a historic first, if he has the opportunity.
Earlier on Sunday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she did not support Trump’s plan to move fast on filling the seat, becoming the second of the 53 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber to object publicly following Ginsburg’s death.
On Saturday, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said the presidential election winner should pick the nominee. She is locked in a tight re-election battle, while Murkowski’s current term extends two more years.
Senator Lamar Alexander, another moderate Republican, said in a statement he did not object to a vote, adding: “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.”
Democrats noted that in 2016 Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on a Democratic appointee on the grounds that the vacancy should be filled by the next president.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer did not rule out that his party might move in future to end the filibuster, a procedural tactic under which the support of 60 members is required to move to a vote on legislation, if the Republicans went ahead with the nomination.
“We first have to win the majority. … But if we win the majority, everything is on the table,” he said.
Schumer and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told a joint news conference that putting another conservative on the court would put at risk healthcare and women’s and LGBTQ rights.
A majority of Americans, some 62% including many Republicans, told a Reuters/Ipsos poll that they thought the winner of the November election should get to nominate a justice to fill the vacancy.
JOLT TO THE CAMPAIGN
Justice Antonin Scalia, a close friend of Ginsburg’s, died in February 2016, but McConnell blocked a vote on Democratic President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.
Trump said on Saturday he would make his nomination this week and named Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible candidates to fill the vacancy created by Ginsburg, a revered figure among liberals.
Ginsburg’s death upended the November election campaign, energizing both Trump’s conservative base – eager to see the court overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide – and presenting new complications in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
“I will be putting forth a nominee next week. It will be a woman,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where supporters chanted: “Fill that seat.”
Trump and McConnell have time to schedule a vote. While elections are on Nov. 3, a new Congress will not be sworn in until Jan. 3, with the winner of the presidential contest inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Republican Senator John Barrasso on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday brushed off Democratic complaints.
“Let’s be very clear – if the shoe were on the other foot and the Democrats had the White House and the Senate, they would right now be trying to confirm another member of the Supreme Court,” Barrasso said.
Democrat Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in the 2016 election, on the same program called that view “indefensible.”
“What’s happening in our country is incredibly dangerous,” said Clinton, a former secretary of state whose husband, Bill Clinton, nominated Ginsburg to the court in 1993. “Our institutions are being basically undermined by the lust for power.”
Trump has already appointed two justices: Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed after a heated confirmation process in which he angrily denied accusations by a California university professor, Christine Blasey Ford, that he had sexually assaulted her in 1982 when the two were high school students in Maryland.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Philadelphia and Susan Heavey, David Brunnstrom, Daphne Psaledakis and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Steve Orlofsky and Peter Cooney)