Donald Trump will name his third supreme court nominee on Friday or Saturday, following memorials for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal justice who died aged 87 on Friday.
Ginsburg will lie in state at the court on Wednesday and Thursday, it was announced. Her coffin will rest on the Lincoln Catafalque, a platform built after the assassination of the 16th president in 1865 and now loaned to the court by Congress. Ginsburg’s funeral will follow next week, at Arlington national cemetery.
“I think it will be on Friday or Saturday and we want to pay respect,” Trump told Fox News in a rambling interview by phone. “It looks like we will have services on Thursday or Friday, as I understand it, and I think we should, with all due respect for Justice Ginsburg, wait for services to be over.”
Though Trump claimed to want to show respect, and called Ginsburg a “legend” who “represented something different than you or I”, he also baselessly cast doubt on a statement Ginsburg is reported to have dictated to her granddaughter shortly before her death.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” the statement said.
“I don’t know that she said that,” the president claimed, “or was that written out by Adam Schiff or [Nancy] Pelosi?
“I would be more inclined to the second, OK. You know, that came out of the wind. That sounds so beautiful, but that sounds like a [Chuck] Schumer deal, or maybe Pelosi or Shifty Schiff. So that came out of the wind, let’s say. I mean, maybe she did, and maybe she didn’t.”
Schiff, the chair of the House intelligence committee, said of Trump’s claim: “This is low. Even for you.” House speaker Pelosi and Senate minority leader Schumer have led Democratic responses to Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s promise to put a nomination swiftly to a vote.
With the presidential election just 43 days away, an announcement on Friday or Saturday would narrow even that short window considerably.
Democrats point to McConnell’s refusal to grant a hearing to Barack Obama’s last nominee, Merrick Garland, in the eight months between the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016 and the election Trump won.
McConnell and Senate allies say the precedent they set then does not now apply, as the Senate and the White House are now held by the same party. There is no provision in the constitution on the subject. On the current court, the conservative Clarence Thomas was nominated by a Republican president and confirmed by a Democratic Senate.
A successful nomination would tilt the court 6-3 in favour of conservatives, potentially shaping American life for generations to come.
On Sunday, Joe Biden called Republicans’ actions an “abuse of power” and appealed to the conscience of senators not closely bound to the president. In turn, Trump pointed to the raw power dynamic at play when he told Fox: “The bottom line is we won the election, we have an obligation to do what’s right and act as quickly as possible.”
Polling shows a majority of the public thinks the nomination should be made by the winner of the presidential election. But McConnell could force a nomination through in the lame duck period before the inauguration on 20 January, even if Democrats retake the White House and the Senate. Trump told Fox he would accept that.
Two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have said they do not support efforts to bring a nomination to a vote. That leaves McConnell with a 51-49 majority – enough to get the confirmation through. One more defection would produce a tie that would be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence. Two more would sink the effort.
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring, has said he will back the leadership. So will Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chair of the judiciary committee, who previously said no justice should be confirmed in an election year.
On Monday morning, Graham’s house was the site of protests. In turn, Trump said Collins and Murkowski would be “hurt very badly” by their positions.
McConnell’s chances appeared to improve late Monday as two other senators who had been closely watched as possible defectors, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, both indicated they would vote to confirm a nominee.
All eyes remain on Mitt Romney of Utah, who has said he would not release a statement until tomorrow.
Trump has promised to nominate a woman. Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana and Barbara Lagoa of Florida are reported to be frontrunners, Trump having reportedly said of Barrett: “I’m saving her for Ginsburg.”
Political considerations will naturally impinge on the selection. Barrett is a devout Catholic, leading to fears among pro-choice groups that her confirmation would imperil Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling which made abortion legal.
On Fox & Friends, Trump praised both women but also said Lagoa was “excellent, she’s Hispanic. She’s a terrific woman from everything I know. I don’t know her. We love Florida and so she’s got a lot of things.”
Trump and Biden are in a tight race in Florida, a key swing state. The Trump campaign has also been targeting Latino voters in Nevada and Arizona.
Trump also said there were five names under consideration and “it could be any one of them, they all be great … You like to go young because they’re there for a long time.”
Barrett is 48 and Lagoa is 52. Allison Jones Rushing, from Virginia, is thought to be in the running but at 38 is thought by many to be too young.
Trump jokingly suggested nominating Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt.
“I think I’ll stay in this seat,” she said.