WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he will announce his U.S. Supreme Court pick by the end of the week, moving quickly to fill the seat of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg and cement a 6-3 conservative majority ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid.
Trump said he would put forward his nominee on Friday or Saturday and called upon the Senate, controlled by his fellow Republicans, to vote on confirmation ahead of the election.
“We have plenty of time for that,” Trump said on Fox News.
Trump has mentioned as possible candidates two federal appellate judges: Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He appointed both to their current posts.
The president said he is looking “very seriously” at five candidates. Ginsburg died last Friday of complications from pancreatic cancer at age 87.
Trump’s announcement on a nominee would come before Ginsburg is due to be buried privately at Arlington National Cemetery next week. Officials have arranged for her body to lie in repose outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday so members of the public can pay their respects before she lies in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has prioritized confirming Trump’s judicial appointments, has said he would usher through a vote. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but two Republican senators – Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski – over the weekend said the chamber should not move forward with a Trump nominee before the election.
McConnell has time, as a new Congress will not be sworn in until Jan. 3. Democrats are hoping to win control of the Senate in the election.
Ginsburg’s death has upended the campaign season, giving Trump and his party an opportunity to strengthen its grip on a court whose decisions influence many spheres of American life including abortion, healthcare, gun rights, voting access, presidential powers and the death penalty.
Trump already has named two conservative justices to the high court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Barrett and Lagoa are clear frontrunners, according to a source familiar with the selection process who spoke on condition of anonymity. Either could face complications in the bitterly divided Senate.
Barrett could face opposition from Collins and Murkowski over concerns that she would roll back abortion rights, the source said. The source said Lagoa, a conservative Cuban-American jurist from the election battleground state of Florida, is not as well known, which could slow down the confirmation process.
“She’s a terrific woman from everything I know,” Trump said of Lagoa on Fox News. “I don’t know her. Florida. We love Florida.” The state is viewed as one that Trump must win to beat Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the election.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner are leading the selection process, the source said. Outside of White House officials, Leonard Leo, the former executive vice president of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, is playing a central advisory role, as he did during the nominations of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.
Trump on Fox also was asked about Judge Allison Rushing, who he appointed to the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.
“I’m looking at five, probably four, but I’m looking at five very seriously. I’m going to make a decision on either Friday or Saturday,” Trump said.
The court vacancy has given Trump and his fellow Republicans a chance to steer the national discussion away from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 200,000 Americans and thrown millions of people out of work.
Democrats have accused McConnell of hypocrisy for being eager to usher a Trump nominee to a confirmation vote. In 2016, he refused to even consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the court left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, saying it would be inappropriate to do so during an election year.
Biden on Sunday called on other Republican senators to join Collins and Murkowski and allow the winner of the election to name the next Supreme Court justice.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sunday found that a majority of Americans – some 62% including about half of Republicans polled – agreed with that sentiment.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Jan Wolfe; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)