Mitch McConnell has locked down the key swing vote of GOP Representative Lamar Alexander for his Supreme Court fight, after two Republicans said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should not be replaced before the election.
The Tennessee Senator threw his support behind McConnell in a statement Sunday, saying 'no one should be surprised' by a new appointment in an election year and that voters 'expect it'.
Donald Trump on Saturday urged the GOP-run Senate to consider 'without delay' his upcoming nomination to fill Ginsburg's seat, who died Friday after a battle with cancer.
The move comes just six weeks before the election and has sparked fierce debate, with many Democrats - as well as some Republicans - insisting the seat must not be filled until after the election.
The crux of the debate centers around the move made by Republicans back in 2016 - and led by McConnell - to block then-President Barack Obama from appointing a new justice to the court nine months before the election.
Their argument at the time was that the position should not be filled until a new president was elected by the American people - a standard set by the Republicans that the Democrats now argue the party must continue to honor.
Four GOP senators now need to join the Democrats to stop a Supreme Court nomination going forward.
Mitch McConnell has locked down the key swing vote of GOP Representative Lamar Alexander (pictured) for his Supreme Court fight
'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 in a statement.
'The Constitution gives senators the power to do it. The voters who elected them expect it.'
Alexander, who is retiring at the end of his current term, went on to say that Democrats would also rush to fill the seat 'if the shoe were on the other foot'.
'Senator McConnell is only doing what Democrat leaders have said they would do if the shoe were on the other foot,' he said.
'I have voted to confirm Justices [John] Roberts, [Samuel] Alito, [Sonia] Sotomayor, [Neil] Gorsuch and [Brett] Kavanaugh based upon their intelligence, character and temperament.
'I will apply the same standard when I consider President Trump's nomination to replace Justice Ginsburg.'
Alexander's statement comes as a blow to the Democrats after he was viewed as a potential swing vote against efforts by McConnell and Trump to fill Ginsburg's seat as soon as possible.
The senator has a history of bipartisanship, having worked closely with Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the past on making it easier for the Senate to confirm presidential nominees.
He had also been eyed by Democrats as a swing vote during Trump's impeachment trial, one of a handful of GOP senators that hinted they could vote to hear from witnesses with knowledge of Trump's conduct toward Ukraine.
However Alexander disappointed Democrats in this instance too, deciding against the calling of witnesses and calling the trial a 'partisan impeachment.'
The Tennessee Senator threw his support behind McConnell (pictured) in a statement Sunday, saying 'no one should be surprised' by a new appointment in an election year and that voters 'expect it'
Two GOP senators - Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins - have already dissented, vowing to derail Trump's nomination plans until after the November 3 election.
Murkowski became the second Republican senator Sunday to say the chamber should not take up the president's nominee before the American people vote for their next president, hours after Trump threw shade at her publicly and after her colleague and frequent collaborator Collins made her own opposition to a quick vote known.
'For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election,' the Alaska senator said.
'Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed,' she continued.
'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.'
Murkowski in her statement was referencing the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, which never got a hearing despite Barack Obama nominating Garland nine months before the 2016 elections.
Two GOP senators - Lisa Murkowski (left) and Susan Collins (right) - have already dissented, vowing to derail Trump's nomination plans until after the November 3 election
Ted Cruz, Texas. 49
Josh Hawley, Missouri. 40
Tom Cotton, Arkansas. 43
Bridget Bade, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 54
Stuart Kyle Duncan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. 48
James Ho, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 47
Gregory Katsas, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 56
Barbara Lagoa, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. 52
Carlos Muñiz, Supreme Court of Florida. 51
Martha Pacold, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. 41
Peter Phipps, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 47
Sarah Pitlyk, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. 43
Allison Jones Rushing, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 38
Lawrence VanDyke, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 47
CURRENT AND FORMER REPUBLICAN OFFICIALS
Daniel Cameron, Kentucky Attorney General. 34
Paul Clement, partner with Kirkland & Ellis, former solicitor general. 54
Steven Engel, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. 46
Noel Francisco, former U.S. solicitor general. 51
Christopher Landau, U.S. ambassador to Mexico. 56
Kate Todd, deputy White House counsel. 45
Trump took a slap at potential dissenter Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski hours before she released the statement Sunday morning, as he kept up his pressure campaign on his own party and prepared to nominate a Supreme Court Justice in an upended election.
The president kept his comments brief, penning a simple 'No thanks!' as he retweeted a promotion by the Alaska Chamber of Commerce speech by Murkowski for Tuesday.
Murkowski voted against Trump's last Supreme Court pick – Justice Brett Kavanaugh. More critically for the current scramble underway, she said shortly before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.
'I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50 some days away from an election,' she said, Alaska Public Radio reported.
She referenced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision not to grant a hearing to Garland in 2016 nearly nine months before the election.
'That was too close to an election, and that the people needed to decide,' Murkowski said.
'That the closer you get to an election, that argument becomes even more important.'
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine – with whom Murkowski often votes when diverging from party orthodoxy – came out with her own statement Saturday.
'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, facing a tough re-election race herself, said on Twitter.
Collins is up for reelection in a close race.
The two dissenters have left Democrats still shy of the count of four needed to derail a nomination, but points to the possibility they could prevent it by winning over an additional pair of Republicans.
With Alexander no longer a possible dissenter, the focus has shifted to Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who votes with conservatives but also voted for an impeachment article against Trump and has called him out occasionally in public.
Democrats have put several other options forward to stall or counteract Trump rushing through the appointment for Ginsburg's replacement.
Several including Rep. Joe Kennedy III have threatened to pack the Supreme Court if they capture the Senate in November and Republicans have already pushed through a conservative successor to Ginsburg.
President Trump said Saturday his Supreme Court nominee is most likely to be a woman. On Sunday he tweeted about Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski
President Donald Trump tweeted a dig at GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who said before Ginsburg's death that she would not vote for a replacement close to the election
Court packing is the move to appoint extra justices to the Supreme Court.
It is a move several Democrats have proposed if the party takes control of the Senate in order to increase the presence of liberal justices on the bench.
Franklin D. Roosevelt made attempts to pack the court back in 1937 when the Republican president wanted to pass his New Deal laws and needed more conservative justices in the court to vote in favor of them.
Roosevelt's attempts failed and he was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for the move.
However Democrats argue court packing will be necessary to rebalance the court if President Trump does not wait until after the presidential inauguration to appoint Justice Ginsburg's replacement.
The issue in contention is that Republicans barred President Obama from appointing a justice in the election year in 2016.
Many Democrats say this meant the seat - finally filled by a Trump nominee after he entered the White house - was 'stolen' by Republicans and that if Republicans now do the very same thing they banned Democrats from doing in 2016 by rushing through an appointment, Democrats will then be within their rights to rebalance the court.
Joe Kennedy III, who represents Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District and is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, tweeted Sunday: 'If he holds a vote in 2020, we pack the court in 2021. It's that simple.'
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler wrote on Twitter: 'If Sen. McConnell and @SenateGOP were to force through a nominee during the lame-duck session -- before a new Senate and President can take office - then the incoming Senate should immediately move to expand the Supreme Court.'
Court packing is a controversial move, however Democrats argue it will be necessary to rebalance the court if Trump does not wait until after the presidential inauguration to appoint Ginsburg's replacement.
Other options on the table are the pursuit of impeachment charges, something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not rule out in an interview Saturday.
'We have our options. We have arrows in our quiver that I'm not about to discuss right now but the fact is we have a big challenge in our country,' she told ABC's 'This Week' when asked about the prospect.
'This president has threatened to not even accept the results of the election,' Pelosi continued.
'Our main goal would be to protect the integrity of the election as we protect the people from the coronavirus.'
AOC echoed the possibility of pursuing impeachment charges at a joint press conference with Schumer Sunday saying there has been 'an enormous amount of lawbreaking' under Trump's watch and branding Barr 'unfit for office'.
'I believe that certainly there has been an enormous amount of lawbreaking in the Trump administration,' she said, when asked about impeachment.
'I believe Attorney General Bill Barr is unfit for office and that he has pursued potentially law-breaking behaviors.'
She said America must 'use every tool at our disposal' and turn to 'unprecedented ways' to stall the appointment and that means putting all options 'on the table'.
'I believe that also we must consider again all the tools available to our disposal and all these options should be entertained and on the table,' she said.
Two other senior Republicans, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Rob Portman of Ohio, backed McConnell in public statements Sunday.
Conservative Trump loyalist Sen. Tom Cotton told 'Fox News Sunday' the president should act 'without delay.'
'The Senate will exercise our constitutional duty,' he said. 'We will move forward without delay.'
Trump's public pressure comes hours after he said at a campaign rally he will act swiftly to make a nomination.
'I will be putting forth a nominee this week,' he said at a campaign rally in North Carolina
'It will be a woman,' Trump added.
The nomination would fail if Republicans were to lose four members from their 53-vote majority.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on Sunday pushed the Senate to vote on a nomination before the election, but would say his party has the votes.
'I don't know the answer to that. I believe we will' he said.
Before he left the White House for the rally, Trump had named two conservative women who he has elevated to federal appeals courts as contenders, a move that would tip the court further to the right.
Trump, who now has a chance to nominate a third justice to a lifetime appointment on the court, named Amy Coney Barrett, 48, of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit and Barbara Lagoa, 52, of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible nominees.
He praised Lagoa, in particular, as an 'extraordinary person'.
On Saturday afternoon, Trump named Amy Coney Barrett, 48, of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit and Barbara Lagoa, 52, of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible nominees.
Emerging as the favorite is Barrett, 48, a mother of seven children, including two adopted from Haiti and one with special needs.
Her involvement in a cult-like Catholic group where members are assigned a 'handmaiden' has caused concern in Barret's nomination to other courts and is set to come under fierce review again if she is Trump's pick.
The group was the one which helped inspire 'The Handmaids Tale', book's author Margaret Atwood has said.
Barrett emerges now as a front runner after she was already shortlisted for the nomination in 2018 which eventually went to Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump called the federal appellate court judge 'very highly respected' when questioned about her Saturday.
Born in New Orleans in 1972, she was the first and only woman to occupy an Indiana seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Married to Jesse M. Barrett, a partner at SouthBank Legal in South Bend and former Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, the couple have five biological and two adopted children.
Their youngest biological child has Down Syndrome.
Friends say she is a devoted mother - and say with just an hour to go until she was voted into the 7th District Court of Appeals by the U.S. Senate in 2017, Barrett was outside trick-or-treating with her kids.
Barrett's strong Christian ideology makes her a favorite of the right but her involvement in a religious group sometimes branded as a 'cult' is set to be harshly criticized.
In 2017, her affiliation to the small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise caused concern while she was a nominee for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
The New York Times reported that the practices of the group would surprise even other Catholics with members of the group swearing a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another.
They are also assigned and held accountable to a personal adviser, known until recently as a 'head' for men and a 'handmaid' for women and believe in prophecy, speaking in tongues and divine healings.
Members are also encouraged to confess personal sins, financial information and other sensitive disclosures to these advisors.
Advisors are allowed to report these admissions to group leadership if necessary, according to an account of one former member.
The organization itself says that the term 'handmaid' was a reference to Jesus's mother Mary's description of herself as a 'handmaid of the Lord.'
They said they recently stopped using the term due to cultural shifts and now use the name 'women leaders.'
The group deems that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family while 'the heads and handmaids give direction on important decisions, including whom to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a home, and how to raise children,' the Times reported.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
Unmarried members are placed living with married couples members often look to buy or rent homes near other members.
Founded in 1971, People of Praise was part of the era's 'great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,' founder Bishop Peter Smith told the Catholic News Agency.
Beginning with just 29 members, it now has an estimated 2,000.
According to CNA, some former members of the People of Praise allege that leaders exerted undue influence over family decision-making, or pressured the children of members to commit to the group.
At least 10 members of Barrett's family, not including their children, also belong to the group.
Barrett's father, Mike Coney, serves on the People of Praise's powerful 11-member board of governors, described as the group's 'highest authority.'
Her mother Linda served as a handmaiden.
The group's ultra-conservative religious tenets helped spur author Margaret Atwood to publish The Handmaid's Tale, a story about a religious takeover of the U.S. government, according to a 1986 interview with the writer.
The book has since been made into a hit TV series.
According to legal experts, loyalty oaths such at the one Barrett would have taken to People of Praise could raise legitimate questions about a judicial nominee's independence and impartiality.
'These groups can become so absorbing