WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Saturday he will most likely choose a woman and will announce his nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg early in the coming week as the Senate leaders spoke with their caucuses about the most important confirmation battle in decades.
Trump, who noted he had a "short list" of candidates for the open seat, told reporters at the White House, "I would say that a woman would be in first place. Yes, the choice of a woman I would say would certainly be appropriate."
Asked about two often-mentioned potential women judges — Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic and abortion rights opponent, and 11th Circuit Court Judge Barbara Lagoa, a Cuban American from Florida — Trump called them both "highly respected."
Trump also urged the Republican-run Senate on Saturday to confirm his yet-to-be-announced selection for the open seat "without delay," a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed that Trump’s pick "will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."
Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for a delay, urging McConnell to allow a new president to choose the nominee as he did in 2016 by blocking President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
"The voters should pick a president and that president should pick the justices for the Senate to consider," Biden said Friday.
Trump dismissed the Democrats' cries of hypocrisy for the rush to confirm a replacement this year.
"Well, that’s called the consequences of losing an election," Trump said, referring to Republicans winning control of the Senate in 2014. "He lost the election; he didn’t have the votes. When you lose the election, sometimes things don’t work out well."
McConnell and Schumer on Saturday began assessing the political climate and developing a strategy while closely watching a half dozen or so Republican senators whose votes could determine whether the Senate approves Trump’s nominee, according to aides and reports.
The high-stakes battle over the open seat left by the death of Ginsburg on Friday will not only supercharge an already intense presidential campaign with just about six weeks to go, but also put on the spot Republican senators who are in close re-election races Nov. 3.
Because Senate Republicans have a 53-member majority, the only way Democrats can block a Trump appointee is for at least four Republican senators to defect — a possibility among moderate Republicans in tight races, or institutionalists uneasy with pushing ahead this year.
The loss of Ginsburg opens the way for a solid 6-3 conservative majority that would rule on any 2020 presidential election dispute, as the court did in 2000, and could rule the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in a case before them. In the future, they could also overturn Roe v. Wade and reverse years of liberal rulings.
"Everything Americans value is at stake," said Schumer in a conference call Saturday with his caucus, according to a source listening in.
"Health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change, and so much else is at risk," Schumer said.
Confirmation of Trump’s nominee could lead a new Democratic Senate majority to remake the Supreme Court to counter Trump’s three high-court appointments with legislation to expand the number of justices, or impose term limits on justices who now have lifetime tenure.
"Let me be clear: If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year," Schumer said, according to the source. "Nothing is off the table."
The timing of the Senate vote on a nominee remains up in the air.
Trump told reporters he preferred a vote before the election. "I would think before would be very good, but we’ll be making a decision," he said. "I think the process can go very, very fast."
Eyes on key Republicans
McConnell’s decision on whether to try to fast-track the nomination process for a vote before the election could be influenced by Senate Republicans whose votes for a Trump nominee are not fully assured.
Two of the senators closely watched during the 2018 confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh have cited the closeness of the presidential election as a key factor in how they will vote.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is facing a tough re-election race after casting a near-decisive vote for Kavanaugh, weighed in on the confirmation process in a statement Saturday.
"I would have no objection to the Senate Judiciary Committee's beginning the process of reviewing his nominee's credentials," she said, but not a vote on the nominee.
"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 said.
Trump rejected her position.
"I totally disagree with her, we have an obligation. We won. And we have an obligation as the winners to pick who we want," he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also balked at voting for a Trump nominee so close to the presidential election.
"I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50-some days away from an election," she said shortly before Ginsburg’s death, according to Alaska Public Radio.
She cited McConnell’s reasoning that the people should pick the president before the president picks a justice for blocking Obama nominee Merrick Garland to replace Scalia nearly nine months before the 2016 presidential election.
"The closer you get to an election, that argument becomes even more important," she said.
Other Republicans being watched include those in tight races, such as Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, said University of Richmond Law School professor Carl Tobias.
Meanwhile, among allies of Democrats, response and concern about the Supreme Court’s future have spiked since the announcement of Ginsburg's death.
As Democrats and liberal groups blasted out appeals for funding, Democratic donors gave $6.2 million through ActBlue in the hour after Ginsburg’s death was announced, the most in any single hour since the campaign contribution web-processing site began 16 years ago.
And a coalition of the major liberal advocacy groups including Alliance for Justice, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, People for the American Way and the National Women’s Law Center issued a battle cry in a conference call.
"We’re going to win this fight," said Nan Aron, executive director of Alliance for Justice, on Saturday’s call with other group leaders.