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Senators to watch during Supreme Court nomination fight

Fight over SCOTUS vacancy grows
Fight over SCOTUS vacancy grows 02:05

There's no question that President Trump will name a new Supreme Court justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "We have this obligation, without delay!" he tweeted Saturday. Whether he'll be able to put his third justice on the high court will depend on the Senate. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that Mr. Trump's nominee will get a vote on the Senate floor, but the Senate is narrowly divided, with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, and if all the Democrats stand together in opposition, should four Republicans join them, the seat will have to wait until next year to be filled.

So far, two have said they do not support voting on a nominee before the election. Senator Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday night on "Hannity" that "we got the votes" to confirm. 

"We got the votes to confirm Justice Ginsburg's replacement before the election," Graham said. "The nominee will be supported by every Republican in the Judiciary Committee and we have the votes to confirm the judge, the justice on the floor of the United States Senate before the election and that's what's coming."  

Most Republican senators whose decisions are being watched have weighed in to support McConnell's decision. 

Here are the senators to watch as the battle over the nomination proceeds.

Susan Collins

The day after Ginsburg's death, Maine Senator Susan Collins said in a statement she doesn't support a vote 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," she wrote. "In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd."

Collins, a moderate four-term senator running for her fifth term in November, has been trailing Democratic opponent Sara Gideon in September polling.

Lisa Murkowski

On Friday, before Ginsburg's death was announced, the Alaska senator told Alaska Public Media, "I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50-some days away from an election."

Murkowski followed up on Sunday with a statement that she is opposed to voting.

"For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed," Murkowski said in a statement. "I did not support taking up a nomination eight months 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."  

Cory Gardner

The Colorado Republican indicated Monday that when the president puts forth a nominee, the Senate "must decide how to best fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent."

"I have and will continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench, and uphold the law," Gardner said. "Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm."  

 In 2016, he declined to support President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, arguing over seven months before the election that it was "too soon" and the American people should weigh in on the decision.

"Our next election is too soon and the stakes are too high," he said in a statement on March 6, 2016, continuing, "the American people deserve a role in this process as the next Supreme Court Justice will influence the direction of this country for years to come."

Gardner is facing a tough reelection race against former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. On Saturday, he declined to answer a question about whether he'd support filling the vacancy before the election, saying during a Q&A session with a group called Club 20, "[O]ut of decency and respect for this country, we need to make sure that we are giving time for personal reflection on this loss of an American icon."

"I hope that before the politics begin, because there will be plenty of time for that, that we have some time for this country to reflect on the legacy of a great woman who led to our nation's highest court, and the work that she has done for this nation whether you agree or not," Gardner said. "There is time for debate there is time for politics, but the time for now, is to pray for the family and to make sure that we keep their, their family in our hearts and prayers, as we mourn as a nation."  

Chuck Grassley

The former chairman of the Judiciary Committee signaled his support for proceeding with confirmation hearings and a vote on a Supreme Court nominee before the election. 

"I've consistently said that taking up and evaluating a nominee in 2020 would be a decision for the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Majority Leader," Grassley said in a statement Monday. "Both have confirmed their intentions to move forward, so that's what will happen." 

In considerably stronger language, Grassley went on to in essence cast blame upon Democrats, whom he accused of having a long history of trying to "hijack the judiciary." 

"From Bork to Estrada to Kavanaugh; from torching the filibuster to threatening justices who rule against their wishes, Senate Democrats have a long, sordid history of politicizing the courts and the confirmation process," Grassley wrote.

"So, make no mistake: if the shoe were on the other foot, Senate Democrats wouldn't hesitate to use their Constitutional authority and anything else at their disposal to fill this seat," he said.

When Ginsburg announced in July that she would be undergoing treatment for a recurrence of cancer, Grassley said he would not recommend holding a hearing on a nominee in an election year. In 2016, Grassley chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and used what he called the "Biden rule" to block Garland's nomination.

Grassley said that 2016 voters would be "denied a voice" if the Senate confirmed a new justice before the election.  

Grassley is not up for reelection until 2022. But Iowa's other senator, Joni Ernst, who is also a Republican, is facing an unexpectedly tough reelection battle. She told Iowa PBS in July that she would support confirmation hearings on Mr. Trump's pick if a seat became vacant and an "appointment prior to the end of the year."

Mitt Romney

The GOP 2012 presidential nominee already broke ranks during the impeachment hearing when he was the only Republican willing to vote to convict Mr. Trump on one of the articles of impeachment, but he has not yet indicated whether he would support a Supreme Court nomination before the election.

Romney issued a statement on Friday after Ginsburg's death that did not mention the looming battle for her seat, but he did note her longtime friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

"Justice Ginsburg served our nation with a deep reverence for the law and our Constitution," Romney said in a statement. "Her fight for women's equality inspired all women to pursue their dreams without limits, and her grit, character and sharp wit made her an iconic and inspirational jurist beloved by people young and old. The beautiful friendship she shared with the late Justice Scalia serves as a reminder to all Americans to treat each other with kindness and respect, despite our differences."

Lamar Alexander

The moderate Tennessee Republican is not seeking reelection this year, and although he ultimately voted with the party against convicting Mr. Trump and against calling witnesses, he was one of a few Republicans who indicated he would vote for calling witnesses. However, Alexander is also one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's best friends. 

On Sunday, Alexander issued a statement saying he wanted to move forward with Mr. Trump's pick.

"No one should be surprised that a Republican Senate majority would vote on a Republican President's Supreme Court nomination, even during a presidential election year," Alexander said. "Senator McConnell is only doing what Democrat leaders have said they would do if the shoe were on the other foot." 

Alexander added that he had voted to confirm five Supreme Court justices "based upon their intelligence, character and temperament. I will apply the same standard when I consider President Trump's nomination to replace Justice Ginsburg."

In 2016, he declined to support confirmation hearings or a vote on Garland's nomination, like many Republicans, saying that the American people should be able to weigh in by way of the presidential election. "This debate is not about Judge Garland. It's about whether to give the American people a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court justice," he said in a statement. He added, "I believe it is reasonable to give the American people a voice by allowing the next president to fill this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court."

But even then, Alexander also cut through the loftier explanation about allowing the people to have their say by noting that it's the party controlling the Senate that gets to decide, concluding his statement by saying, "Senator McConnell is only doing what the Senate majority has the right to do and what Senate Democrat leaders have said they would do in similar circumstances."

John Cornyn

The three-term Texas Republican is locked in an unexpectedly close reelection campaign, and Mr. Trump is locked in a tighter-than-expected race for the state's 38 electoral college votes. CBS News' Battleground Tracker poll analysis says the state leans Republican, but Mr. Trump is leading Biden by only two points, 48% to 46%. 

Cornyn's statement Friday on Ginsburg's death did not mention the looming battle to fill her seat, but he retweeted a report about McConnell saying he would fill the seat. 

In 2016, Cornyn opposed holding a vote on Garland. He acknowledged that the president has the authority to nominate a justice, but added that the "Senate also has the authority and responsibility to determine how to move forward with it."

"At this critical juncture in our nation's history, Texans and the American people deserve to have a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court," Cornyn's statement at the time said. "The only way to empower the American people and ensure they have a voice is for the next President to make the nomination to fill this vacancy."

Cornyn also warned in 2016, "The next justice could change the ideological makeup of the Court for a generation, and fundamentally reshape American society in the process." Mr. Trump's expected conservative nominee, too, would change the ideological makeup of the court, since Ginsburg was one of four liberal justices on the court. His appointment would change the balance of the court to 6 to 3, strengthening the conservative majority and weakening Chief Justice John Roberts' moderating influence.

David Perdue

The first-term senator from Georgia is locked in a tough reelection battle with the well-funded Jon Ossoff. CBS News Battleground Tracker poll has the state listed as a toss-up in the presidential race. 

Perdue's statement Friday on Ginsburg's death made no mention of the vacant seat. On Sunday, he indicated he supported a vote on Mr. Trump's nominee.

"I am confident that President Trump will nominate another highly-qualified candidate who will strictly uphold the Constitution," Perdue said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Once the president announces a nomination, the United States Senate should begin the process that moves this to a full Senate vote." 

In 2016, Perdue opposed a vote on Garland. "I remain firm in my decision to exercise my Constitutional authority and withhold consent on any nominee to the Supreme Court submitted by President Obama," Perdue said. 

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