Trump set to announce Supreme Court pick, Republicans eye quick confirmation

Washington (AFP) –

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President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will announce his pick on Saturday for the crucial Supreme Court seat left open by the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- and his Republican party vowed a quick vote to confirm the nominee.

Democratic opponents, led by presidential candidate Joe Biden, have demanded that Republicans back off on replacing Ginsburg -- who died last week -- until after the November 3 election, when they'll know whether Trump is getting a second term.

Republicans are ignoring this, giving Trump, who has already replaced two other justices, a chance to tilt the nation's highest court to the right for decades to come, whether he beats Biden or not.

"I will be announcing my Supreme Court Nominee on Saturday, at the White House! Exact time TBA," Trump said.

Trump had originally indicated he would reveal his choice early this week, but delayed out of respect for the memorial services for Ginsburg taking place in the capital.

He has said he will choose a woman for the lifetime post.

Leaders of the Republican majority in the Senate, which is tasked with confirming court nominees, said they now have enough support to hold a vote on the nomination either before the election or at worst during the "lame-duck" session between the election and the inauguration of the next president in January.

"We will certainly do that this year," Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said.

Although two Republican senators said they believed the upper chamber of Congress should not vote at all before the election, the party's 53-47 majority is still just big enough to go ahead.

One of the other key potential Republican holdouts, frequent Trump critic Mitt Romney, broke his silence Tuesday by saying he would move ahead with the process.

"If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications," Romney said in a statement.

- 'Abuse of power' -

Democrats argue that any Senate vote should be delayed until after the election has made clear who will lead the country from 2021.

They cite the example of 2016 when, under then Democratic president Barack Obama, his nominee to replace Antonin Scalia months before the election did not even get a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

"Why should the American people trust the Republican senators to do anything they say when they are proving right now that their speeches mean nothing the moment the shoe is on the other foot," the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said.

Republicans say that with their control of the White House and the Senate right now, they have the right to fill court seats at any time they wish.

Adding to tensions, there is fear that leaving Ginsburg's seat unfilled -- reducing the court to eight justices -- raises the possibility of a 4-4 tie in the event of rulings related to election disputes.

On the other hand, a significant strengthening of the conservative wing on the court with a new Trump appointee could give the Republicans more confidence that decisions in any potential post-election standoff would go their way.

Trump's Saturday announcement will set the clock ticking on what is likely to be a contentious fight in Congress as Republicans push to get the nominee confirmed at an unusually -- though not unheard of -- quick pace.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters "we certainly believe we can" get the entire approval process done ahead of the election.

Although Democrats have no way of stopping the procedure, they will seek to inflict political pain on the Republicans over what Biden calls an "abuse of power."

"Everything Americans value hangs in the balance: health care, protections for preexisting conditions, women's rights, gay rights, workers rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change, and so much else is at risk," Schumer added.