Republican senator Mitt Romney has said he supports voting to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court, all but ensuring Donald Trump has the backing needed to push the nomination over Democratic objections that it is too close to the November election.
“If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications,” Mr Romney said.
The president has said he will announce his choice to replace the late Ms Ginsburg on Saturday, setting off a Senate battle with Democrats.
The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman 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,” Lindsey Graham said. “We’ve got the votes to confirm the justice on the floor of the Senate before the election and that’s what’s coming.”
The president met conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday and told reporters he would interview other candidates and might meet Judge Barbara Lagoa when he travels to Florida later this week.
Conversations in the White House and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s office have been increasingly focused on Ms Barrett and Ms Lagoa, according to a source.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber and can confirm a justice by a simple majority.
Mr Trump has said he would choose a woman, and admitted 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.
Democrats, led by presidential nominee Joe Biden, are protesting over the Republicans’ rush to replace Ms Ginsburg, saying voters should speak first on Election Day, and the winner of the White House should fill the vacancy.
Mr Trump dismissed those arguments, saying: “I think that would be good for the Republican Party, and I think it would be good for everybody to get it over with.”
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.
Democrats point to hypocrisy in Republicans trying to rush through a pick so close to the election after Mr McConnell led the party in refusing to vote on a nominee of President Barack Obama in February 2016, long before that year’s election.
Mr Biden is appealing to Republican senators to “uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience” and wait until after the election.
Ms Ginsburg, 87, died on Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer.