WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Tuesday that he supports holding a Senate confirmation vote for the Supreme Court nominee that President Donald Trump plans to announce this weekend.
Romney's occasional criticism of the Trump administration made him a possible vote against proceeding with the nomination, though it was clear Monday night that Republican leaders had locked up enough votes to move forward. So far only two Republican senators have said it is too close to the presidential election to consider a court nomination, not enough to block it.
Romney expressed no concerns about the timing of the vote.
"The Constitution gives the President the power to nominate and the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees. Accordingly, I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the President’s nominee. If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications," Romney said in a statement.
Trump said Tuesday that he plans to announce his Supreme Court nominee at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday. "I’m getting very close to having a final decision made. Very close," he told reporters on South Lawn of the White House.
The president has said he plans to select a female nominee.
Trump met with one front-runner, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, at the White House on Monday and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said any meeting regarding the president’s Supreme Court selection, including one with federal appellate Judge Barbara Lagoa, will take place in Washington.
Trump had said he's waiting to make the announcement until after services for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week. On Friday, Ginsburg will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, the first woman to do so, and a formal ceremony is expected to take place that morning.
Democrats oppose holding a Senate confirmation vote before the election, but have few avenues to block or slow the process. All eyes had been on Romney, a frequent Trump critic who voted to convict the president during the Senate impeachment trial earlier this year, as someone who could join Democrats to block the confirmation vote.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Democratic whip, told reporters Tuesday, "I’ve been around here a few years. You can slow things down, but you can’t stop them. There comes a point where you use whatever tools we have available, but ultimately there will be a vote."
Romney's announcement comes after Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, one of the most vulnerable GOP senators facing re-election, said Monday that he will back a hearing for Trump's nominee.
This means that Republicans probably have enough votes to hold a confirmation vote on the eventual nominee. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Collins, who’s up for re-election in a tight race, said that they oppose holding a confirmation vote before the election.
Republicans can afford three defections in order to confirm the nominee, assuming all Democrats oppose the pick.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the timing of the vote will depend on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who will oversee the confirmation hearing in the committee.
"When the nomination comes out of committee, then I'll decide when and how to proceed," the Kentucky Republican said, adding, "We'll be here until the end of the year."
McConnell also defended his decision to plow ahead with a nominee, even though voting for the presidential election has already begun. "We have an obligation under the Constitution, should we choose to take advantage of it," McConnell said.
Graham said there would likely be a vote before the election, and that he expects the hearings to last as long as past hearing have, which can be up to three days.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol about his decision, Romney said that it made sense in 2016 for Senate Republicans not to hold a confirmation vote on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland because different parties controlled the White House and Senate. Romney, however, said that when the president and Senate majority are from the same party, they have the right to proceed with a Supreme Court confirmation vote.
"The decision to proceed now with President Trump's nominee is also consistent with history. I came down on the side of the institution and precedent as I've studied it. And, and made the decision on that basis," Romney said.
Asked about qualifications in a nominee, Romney said that he wants someone who is a "strict constructionist" in which they look at the law itself and the Constitution "as opposed to sort of looking into the sky and pulling out ideas that they think may be more appropriate than either the law or the Constitution."
"I recognize that we may have a court which has more of a conservative bent than it's had over the last few decades. But my liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court. And that's not written in the stars," he said.
Meadows said that he’s optimistic that the GOP-controlled Senate will ultimately confirm the nominee.
“I fully believe that we'll have the votes that there will be there, and whether it's before the election or shortly after, I'm confident that this person will get confirmed and be the next justice on the Supreme Court,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., warned that an additional Trump nominee could lead to the end of the Affordable Care Act, and said McConnell's machinations - refusing a vote on Garland because it was an election year and moving ahead with a vote on a Trump nominee despite it being an election year - show he's "decided the rules don’t apply to Republicans."
"If Leader McConnell presses forward, the Republican majority will have stolen two Supreme Court seats four years apart, using completely contradictory rationales," Schumer said.