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The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, on Sept. 21, 2020.SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Senate Republicans swiftly fell in line Tuesday behind President Donald Trump’s rush to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat, all but ensuring a divisive confirmation vote within weeks despite Democrats' objections it’s too close to the Nov. 3 election.

Trump, who has yet to announce his nominee, said that will come Saturday and he’s confident his choice will be confirmed.

“I guess we have all the votes we’re going to need,” Trump told WJBX FOX 2 in Detroit. “I think it’s going to happen.”

Trump and conservatives are insisting on a vote before Election Day, and Republicans control the Senate, 53-47, with a simple majority needed for confirmation. The one remaining possible Republican holdout, Mitt Romney of Utah, said Tuesday he supports taking a vote.

Still, with early presidential voting already under way in several states, all sides are girding for a wrenching Senate battle over health care, abortion access and other big cases before the court and sure to further split the torn nation.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have launched one of the quickest confirmation efforts in recent times. No court nominee in U.S. history has been considered so close to a presidential election. And it all comes as the nation is marking the grave milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

During a private lunch meeting Tuesday at Senate GOP campaign headquarters, several Republican senators spoke up in favour of voting before the election. None advocated a delay.

McConnell made no scheduling announcements. But hearings could start as soon as Oct. 12 by the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a vote in the full Senate by Oct. 29, according to a GOP aide granted anonymity to discuss deliberations. McConnell said more information would be coming once Trump announces his choice.

Democrats, led by presidential nominee Joe Biden, vow a tough fight but need four GOP defections to block consideration. So far, two Republicans have said they oppose taking up a nomination at this time, but no others are in sight. Under Senate rules, Vice-President Mike Pence can break a tie vote.

As tributes poured in for Ginsburg with vigils and flowers at the court’s steps, the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said that “we should honour her dying wish,” which was that her seat not be filled until the man who wins the presidential lection is installed, in January. But that seemed no longer an option.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, who faces his own tough re-election in South Carolina, said he’s confident his panel has time to consider Trump’s pick and send it to full Senate “before Election Day.”

After Trump met with conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday he told reporters he would interview other candidates and might meet with Judge Barbara Lagoa when he travels to Florida later this week. Conversations in the White House and McConnell’s office have been increasingly focused on Barrett and Lagoa, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.

Barrett, 48, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, has long been favoured by conservatives. Those familiar with the process said interest inside the White House seemed to be waning for Lagoa amid concerns she did not have a proven record as a conservative jurist. Lagoa has been pushed by Florida’s governor, and aides tout her political advantages of being Hispanic and hailing from the key political battleground state.

Democrats point to hypocrisy in Republicans trying to rush through a pick so close to the election after McConnell led the GOP in refusing to vote on a nominee of President Barack Obama in February 2016, long before that year’s election.

Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, dismissed that argument, saying “it was not unfair” for Republicans to refuse to consider Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland.

The Utah Republican backed up his decision by saying it’s not “written in the stars” that the court should have a liberal bent. He said Trump’s pick will tip the court to become more conservative, and he said that is appropriate “for a nation which is, if you will, centre right, to have a court which reflects a centre right point of view.”

At the private lunch, Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said, senators advocating swift voting warned of “too many complications” if the process is delayed until after the election – presumably if Biden wins the White House or Republicans lose the Senate.

Conservative groups pushing for swift approval also argue the election result could be disputed with legal battles dragging on for weeks.

Democrats say voters should speak first, on Election Day, and the winner of the White House should fill the vacancy. Biden appealed to GOP senators to “uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience” and wait until after the election.

But few Republicans are willing to cross Trump. The president has criticized Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for opposing a Senate vote before elections. Trump warned they would be “very badly hurt” by voters in November.

Collins went further Tuesday saying she would vote against Trump’s pick, “not because I might not support that nominee under normal circumstances but we’re simply too close to the election.”

Republicans anticipate an election-year boost from the debate over abortion, health care and other issues before the court. “These sorts of fights bring Republicans together,” said Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., the party’s Senate campaign chairman.

At a memorial on the National Mall marking the 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid tribute to Ginsburg and warned against Trump’s coming court challenge to the Affordable Care Act. “It’s a time for us to vote health,” she said.

The mounting clash over the vacant seat injects new turbulence in the presidential campaign with the nation still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and shattered economy, with millions unemployed and heightened partisan tensions and anger.

Ginsburg, 87, died Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol this week, the first woman accorded that honour. Her casket will be on view Wednesday and Thursday on the steps of the high court.

No nominee has won confirmation so quickly since Sandra Day O’Connor – with no opposition from either party – became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981.

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