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A small group of demonstrators protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court, in Washington, on Sept. 21, 2020.

ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he expects to announce his pick for the Supreme Court by week’s end, before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried, launching a monumental Senate confirmation fight over objections from Democrats who say it’s too close to the November election.

Conversations in the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office are increasingly focused on two finalists: Amy Coney Barrett, who was at the White House on Monday, and Barbara Lagoa, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations. Mr. Trump himself confirmed they were among the top contenders.

Ms. Barrett has long been a favourite of conservatives and was a strong contender for the seat that eventually went in 2018 to Brett Kavanaugh. At the time, Mr. Trump told confidants he was “saving” Ms. Barrett for Justice Ginsburg’s seat.

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Mr. Trump said he is planning to name his pick by Friday or Saturday, ahead of the first presidential election debate. Justice Ginsburg’s casket is to be on view midweek on the iconic steps outside the court and later privately at the Capitol. She is to be buried next week in a private service at Arlington National Cemetery.

Democrats, led by presidential nominee Joe Biden, are protesting the Republicans' rush to replace Justice Ginsburg, saying voters should speak first, on Election Day, Nov. 3, and the winner of the White House should fill the vacancy.

Mr. Trump dismissed those arguments, telling Fox & Friends, “I think that would be good for the Republican Party, and I think it would be good for everybody to get it over with.”

The mounting clash over the vacant seat – when to fill it and with whom – injects new turbulence in the presidential campaign as the country reels from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people, left millions unemployed and heightened partisan tensions and anger.

Democrats point to hypocrisy in Republicans trying to rush through a pick so close to the election after refusing to vote on a nominee of then-president Barack Obama in February, 2016, long before that year’s election. Mr. Biden is appealing to GOP senators to “uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience” and wait until after the election.

Justice Ginsburg, 87, died Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She would be the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. Rosa-Parks, the civil rights leader, lay in honour after her death in 2005.

Ms. Lagoa has been pushed by some aides who tout her political advantages of being Hispanic and hailing from the key political battleground state of Florida.

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Mr. McConnell vowed on Monday to have a vote “this year” on Mr. Trump’s nominee. With just more than a month before the election, he said the Senate has “more than sufficient time.”

Announcing a nominee on Friday or Saturday would leave less than 40 days for the Senate to hold a confirmation vote before the election. No nominee has won confirmation that quickly since Sandra Day O’Connor – with no opposition from either party – became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981.

Protesters are mobilizing for a wrenching confirmation fight punctuated by crucial issues before the court – health care, abortion access and even the potential outcome of the coming presidential election. Some showed up early Monday morning outside the homes of key GOP senators.

Mr. Trump said Monday he had five finalists, “probably four” – all women – and had started speaking to them over the past two days. He said his preference was for someone younger who could hold her seat for decades.

Mr. Trump admitted that politics may play a role. Late Monday, he gave a nod to another battleground state, Michigan, and White House officials confirmed he was referring to Joan Larsen, a federal appeals court judge there.

The President also indicated that Allison Jones Rushing, a 38-year-old appellate judge from North Carolina, is on his short list. His team is also actively considering Kate Todd, the White House deputy counsel who has never been a judge but was a clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.

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As the Senate returned to Washington on Monday, attention focused on Republicans Mitt Romney of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa for clues to whether Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell will be able to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s replacement quickly.

Four Republicans could halt a quick confirmation and Mr. Trump criticized Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for opposing a vote before elections. The President warned they would be “very badly hurt” by voters.

Mr. Trump went so far as to disparage reports that Justice Ginsburg had told her granddaughter it was her wish that a replacement justice not be confirmed until the inauguration of a new president. “It just sounds to me like it would be somebody else” who said that, Mr. Trump said, providing no evidence and pointing to political foes including Representative Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman.

Mr. Schiff said Mr. Trump sank to a new “low” with that comment. He denied any involvement in Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish but said he would “fight like hell to make it come true.”

A day earlier, Mr. Biden appealed to Republicans to join Ms. Murkowski and Ms. Collins in opposing a confirmation vote before the Nov. 3 election. He said, “Let the people speak. Cool the flames that have engulfed our country.”

Jamming the nomination through, Mr. Biden said, would amount to an “abuse of power.”

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On Monday, Mr. Biden focused on joblessness and the pandemic rather than the court vacancy as he campaigned in Wisconsin, aligning himself with the country’s workers, especially those who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 after having backed Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.

He said that COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are surging past 200,000 and said of the count, which many Democrats say Mr. Trump has done too little to stop, “I worry we’re risking becoming numb to the toll that it has taken on us and our country and communities like this.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer objected to Mr. McConnell’s “utterly craven” pursuit of Supreme Court confirmation under such circumstances, warning it would shatter Senate norms. “It’s enough to make your head explode,” he said.

The sudden vacancy is reshaping the presidential race, which to this point has been largely a referendum how Mr. Trump had managed the COVID-19 pandemic.

It seems certain to electrify both sides: Democrats were breaking fundraising records while a packed Trump crowd in North Carolina Saturday loudly chanted “Fill that seat.” But it remains unclear if the high bench vacancy – which could impact everything from abortion rights to legal challenges to the 2020 election – would persuade disenchanted Republicans to return to Mr. Trump or fire up women or suburban voters to break for Mr. Biden.

Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. If there were a 50-50 tie, it could be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence.

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