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Mitt Romney's support strengthens Republican bid to move quickly on U.S. Supreme Court nominee

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday he supports voting to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, all but ensuring President Donald Trump has the backing needed to push the nomination over Democratic objections that it's too close to the November election.

Unlike colleagues Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, Romney sees no reason to delay until 2021

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, seen Sept. 16 in Washington, said the scenario currently is not the same as when Republicans prevented a vote in 2016 on a Democratic nominee. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday he supports voting to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, all but ensuring President Donald Trump has the backing needed to push the nomination over Democratic objections that it's too close to the November election.

Romney issued a statement saying he would support moving forward.

"If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications," Romney said.

WATCH l U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney supports moving forward with Supreme Court nominee:

The Republican senator from Utah explains his decision to reporters on fielding a nominee before the November election. 5:28

The Senate's judiciary chair who will shepherd the nomination through the chamber said Republicans have the votes they need for confirmation — even though no nominee has been announced.

"The nominee is going to be supported by every Republican in the judiciary committee," chair Lindsey Graham told Fox News late Monday. "We've got the votes to confirm the justice on the floor of the Senate before the election, and that's what's coming."

LISTEN l The heated Senate fight ahead:

Just six weeks before Americans vote for their next president, the death of legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left a gigantic hole on the U.S. top court. Today, CBC’s senior Washington editor Lyndsay Duncombe explains how the vacancy has ignited a fight for legal dominance that could shape the election’s outcome and the country for decades. 22:44

Republican Sen. Susan Collins will vote against Trump's nominee 

Maine Sen. Susan Collins is the first Republican senator to say she will vote against Trump's picks for the Supreme Court vacancy if the vote occurs before Election Day. 

Collins said she'll vote "no" because of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's refusal to consider a Supreme Court nomination by president Barack Obama when justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. 

That was nine months before that year's presidential election. McConnell said then that the voters should decide which president should make a nomination. This time, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died 46 days before election day.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also said she's against voting on a nominee before the election.

More turbulence in presidential campaign 

Four Republicans could halt a quick confirmation. Trump criticized Collins and Murkowski, warning they would be "very badly hurt" by voters.

The mounting clash over the vacant seat — when to fill it and with whom — injects new turbulence in the presidential campaign with the nation still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans, left millions unemployed and heightened partisan tensions and anger.

Both sides are mobilizing for a wrenching confirmation fight punctuated by crucial issues before the court — health care, abortion access and even the potential outcome of the coming presidential election.

Democrats point to hypocrisy in Republicans trying to rush through a pick so close to the Nov. 3 election after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell led the Republican Party in refusing to vote on Merrick Garland in 2016. 

Romney, like McConnell, told reporters Tuesday the circumstances are different this time as the same party controls both the White House and the Senate.

"I came down on the side of the constitution and precedent as I've studied it and [made] the decision on that basis," he said.

Trump to announce nominee on Saturday

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, has said that voters should speak first, on election day, and the winner of the White House should fill the vacancy. Biden has appealed to Republicans to join Murkowski and Collins in opposing a confirmation vote before the election. 

Trump, meanwhile, said in a tweet he would announce his choice to replace the late Ginsburg on Saturday, setting off a Senate battle with Democrats.

At a Trump rally later Monday in Ohio, people chanted, "Fill the seat!"

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber and can confirm a justice by a simple majority.

With just over a month before the election, McConnell said the Senate has "more than sufficient time," though most confirmations have typically taken over two months.

No nominee has won confirmation so quickly since Sandra Day O'Connor — with no opposition from either party — became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981.

WATCH l On Ginsburg's life and legacy:

CBC Washington correspondent Keith Boag and lawyer Marie Henein talk about the mark Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left on the world and what could happen with her vacancy in the United States Supreme Court. 6:28

Potential candidates

The president met with conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday and 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, was a strong contender for the seat that eventually went to Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. At the time, Trump told confidants he was "saving" Barrett for Ginsburg's seat.

She clerked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and also clerked at the Supreme Court for Scalia.

Barrett has long expressed sympathy with a mode of interpreting the Constitution, called originalism, in which justices try to decipher original meanings of texts in deciding cases. Many liberals say that approach doesn't allow the constitution to change with the times.

Trump has said he would choose a woman, and he admitted that politics may play a role. He gave a nod to another election battleground state, Michigan, and White House officials confirmed he was referring to Joan Larsen, a federal appeals court judge there.

The president also indicated that Allison Jones Rushing, a 38-year-old appellate judge from North Carolina, is on his short list. His team is also actively considering Kate Todd, the White House deputy counsel who has never been a judge but was a clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ginsburg, 87, died Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol this week, the first woman ever accorded that honour. First, her casket is to be on view midweek on the steps of the high court.

With files from CBC News

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