Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is pivotal to whether Republicans can get enough votes for a Supreme Court confirmation before the November election, said Monday that he will back a hearing for President Donald Trump's nominee.
That probably means that only two or three Republicans will vote against a nominee so close to an election, not enough to stop the nomination from getting an up-or-down vote.
Gardner, who is in a tough re-election race, would be a key vote after Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who is also in a tight re-election battle, said they would oppose taking up Trump's nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer.
"When a President exercises constitutional authority to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court vacancy, the Senate must decide how to best fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent," Gardner said. "I have and will continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench, and uphold the law. Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm."
As of Monday evening, Republicans appeared to be on track to replace Ginsburg this year.
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Several senators in tough re-election bids came out for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan to vote on Trump's nominee this year — Gardner, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who faces an unexpectedly competitive race in South Carolina.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the former chair of the Judiciary Committee who blocked a hearing on President Barack Obama's nominee in 2016, reversed course Monday and said he will support moving forward with Trump's pick even though it is closer to the presidential election.
"The Constitution gives the Senate that authority, and the American people's voices in the most recent election couldn't be clearer," he said, referring to the GOP's having gained Senate seats in the 2018 races.
Democrats need two more votes to thwart the nomination. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who is undecided, is a closely watched vote. Other senators in the Republican conference do not have histories of bucking their party on an issue of this importance, and it would be a surprise if any of them blocked McConnell.
The party has a 53-47 majority, and even if Republicans lose three votes, Vice President Mike Pence can cast the tiebreaking vote to secure the nomination.
Ernst, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said Monday, "Once the president puts forward his nominee for the Supreme Court, I will carry out my duty — as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — to evaluate the nominee for our nation's highest court."
Both parties are bracing for a grueling confirmation fight.
"We're going to have 44 more days of insanity," said Charles Hellwig, a political consultant in North Carolina and former chair of the Wake County GOP. "We're going to scream and yell on both sides: The sky is falling, the world's going to blow up, all this stuff."