WASHINGTON — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday that he supports replacing the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before the upcoming presidential election.
“The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own,” Romney said in a statement, echoing an argument Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made earlier this week.
“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,” Romney said in a statement. “If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications.”
Romney, who broke with his party earlier this year to convict President Donald Trump on one count of abuse of power during the Senate’s impeachment trial, was a closely watched swing vote on the issue of replacing Ginsburg. His decision to side with Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a sign that the party will have the votes to replace the late justice in the coming weeks. With a 53–47 majority in the Senate, Republicans can lose four votes and still successfully push through a nominee.
Just two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said they would not support replacing Ginsburg before the election.
“Given the proximity of the presidential election, however, I do not believe that the Senate should vote on the nominee prior to the election,” Collins said in a statement following Ginsburg's death. Though she noted that Trump “has the constitutional authority” to appoint a replacement and said she would support the Judiciary Committee moving forward to vet Trump’s eventual nominee, Collins she said she believes whoever wins the election should get to pick the next justice.
Murkowski made similar comments both prior to Ginsburg’s death and in the days following the announcement.
In a statement the Sunday, Murkowski reiterated that stance, saying, “For weeks, I have stated I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed. I did not support taking up a nomination before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Scalia, we are now even closer to the 2020 election — less than two months out and I believe the same standard must apply."
Despite blocking Merrick Garland, former president Barack Obama’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after the justice died in February 2016, and arguing the next president should make the appointment, McConnell said quickly following Ginsburg’s death that Trump’s nominee would get a vote in the Senate. Trump said Monday that he would announce his choice later this week, on Friday or Saturday.
Other Republican senators could still break with party leadership on whether to move forward with filling the seat. Sen. Chuck Grassley told NBC News in August that “he couldn’t move forward” with a new nominee before the election after supporting McConnell’s decision not to move forward with Garland’s 2016 nomination, and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who is facing a close reelection fight, has not commented on how he will vote.
But several Republican senators in close races, including Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, have said they support moving forward with a nomination.
Romney is one of the most prominent Mormon politicians in the US and represents Utah, a Republican state with the country’s largest population of Latter-day Saints. For decades, the church’s members have been a reliably Republican voting block, but Trump has struggled in the state and with members of the LDS church.
In 2012, with Romney on the ticket as the Republican nominee, Utah voted for Romney by a margin of nearly 50 points. In 2016, Trump won the state by just 18 points, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton picked up 27% of the vote, and third-party candidate Evan McMullin garnered 21%.
Recent polling in the state has found Trump leading former vice president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the state by about 12 points.
In a letter to his caucus over the weekend, McConnell encouraged senators to “keep their powder dry,” writing, “This is not the time to prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret.”