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WORLD | 21-09-2020 16:11

Trump to make court pick by Saturday, before Ginsburg burial

US president says he expects to announce pick for the Supreme Court by week’s end, before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried.

US President Donald Trump said Monday he expects to announce his pick for the Supreme Court by week’s end, before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried, launching a monumental Senate confirmation fight ahead of the November election.

Trump said he is planning to name his pick by Friday or Saturday, ahead of the first presidential election debate. Ginsberg's casket is to be on view mid-week on the iconic steps outside the court and later at the Capitol. She is to be buried next week in a private service at Arlington National Cemetery.

Democrats, led by presidential nominee Joe Biden, are protesting the Republicans' rush to replace Ginsburg, saying voters should speak first, on Election Day, November 3, and the winner of the White House should fill the vacancy.

Trump told Fox & Friends he had a list of five finalists, “probably four.” He says his choice will likely be a woman.

As for the swift action, Trump said, “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 impending clash over the vacant seat — when to fill it and with whom — has scrambled the stretch run of the presidential race for a nation already reeling from the pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people, left millions unemployed and heightened partisan tensions and anger.

Democrats point to the hypocrisy of Republicans in trying to rush through a pick so close to the election after refusing to do so for former president Barack Obama in February 2016, long before that year’s election. Biden is appealing to GOP senators to delay the vote until after the election.

Ginsburg, 87, died Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell is pushing ahead with plans to begin the confirmation process, and the Senate GOP leadership team was to meet Monday behind closed doors on next steps.

Trump allowed that he would accept a vote in the lame duck period after Election Day but made clear his preference would be that it occur by November 3.

Announcing a nominee on Friday or Saturday would leave less than 40 days for the Senate to hold a confirmation vote before the election. No nominee has won confirmation that quickly since Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981.

Protesters are mobilising for a wrenching confirmation fight punctuated by crucial issues before the court — healthcare, abortion access and even the potential outcome of the coming presidential election. Some showed up early Monday morning outside the homes of key GOP senators.

The president confirmed Monday that among the top contenders are Indiana’s Amy Coney Barrett and Florida’s Barbara Lagoa, both appellate court judges he appointed.

Barrett has long been a favourite among conservative while Lagoa has been pushed by some aides who tout her political advantages of being Hispanic and hailing from the key battleground state of Florida.

Trump also indicated that Allison Jones Rushing, a 38-year-old appellate judge from North Carolina, is on his short list. He has promised to nominate a woman for the high court, adding that his preference is for someone younger who could hold her seat for decades.

As the Senate returned to Washington on Monday, attention focused on Republicans Mitt Romney of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa for clues to whether Trump and McConnell will be able to confirm Ginsburg’s replacement anytime soon.

Four Republicans could halt a quick confirmation and the president criticised Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for opposing a vote before elections. He warned they would be “very badly hurt” by voters.

Trump went so far as to disparage reports that Ginsburg had told her granddaughter it was her wish that a replacement justice not be confirmed until the inauguration of a new president. Providing no evidence, Trump suggested that Democratic political foes were behind the report, including Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who led the chamber's impeachment probe.

Schiff said Trump sank to "a new low” with that comment. He denied any involvement in Ginsburg's dying wish but said he would “fight like hell to make it come true.”

A day earlier, Biden appealed to Republicans to join Murkowski and Collins in opposing a confirmation vote before the November 3 election. It takes four GOP senators breaking ranks to keep Trump’s nominee off the court.

“Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience,” said Biden, speaking in Philadelphia on Sunday. “Let the people speak. Cool the flames that have engulfed our country.”

Jamming the nomination through, Biden said, would amount to an “abuse of power.”

The sudden vacancy is reshaping the presidential race, which to this point has been largely a referendum how Trump had managed the Covid-19 pandemic.

It seems certain to electrify both sides: Democrats were breaking fundraising records while a packed Trump crowd in North Carolina Saturday loudly chanted “Fill that seat.” But it remains unclear if the high bench vacancy — which could impact everything from abortion rights to legal challenges to the 2020 election — would persuade disenchanted Republicans to return to Trump or fire up women or suburban voters to break for Biden.

Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. If there were a 50-50 tie, it could be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

There is another potential wrinkle: Because Arizona’s Senate race is a special election, that seat could be filled as early as Nov. 30. If Democrat Mark Kelly wins and is seated, that would narrow the window for McConnell.

Most Republicans concurred on the need for speed and one named a practical reason: The nine-member court, argued Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, must be full if called upon to decide the outcome of a disputed presidential election.

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by Jonathan Lemire, Lisa Mascaro & Alexandra Jaffe, Associated Press

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