Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell officially has the votes to move ahead with President Donald Trump’s replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat, now that Sen. Mitt Romney has announced he won’t be blocking the nominee’s consideration.
Romney was one of the last lawmakers to take a stance on a confirmation vote, speaking out on Tuesday. Prior to this announcement, there was speculation that he might join Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in pushing for a vote to take place after the election. In his statement, Romney didn’t comment on the specific timing of the vote, but he did signal his openness to moving forward with the process.
“I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the president’s nominee,” he said. “If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications.”
Since many Republicans have already fallen in line behind McConnell — including swing state senators such as Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) — Romney was seen as one of the last potential holdouts whose possible defection could change McConnell’s calculus. Because Republicans have a 53-47 majority and Vice President Mike Pence could serve as a tie-breaking vote if a final count is 50-50, four Republicans would have needed to break with McConnell to prevent the nomination from advancing.
At this point, just Collins and Murkowski have said they’d be willing to do so when it comes to the timing of the vote.
As his statement suggests, Romney doesn’t appear to be joining them and defying the Republican conference in the same way he did during the impeachment process, when he voted to remove Trump from office. His decision on next steps is in line with his support for conservative justices in the past, whom he himself would have likely nominated had he won his run for the presidency.
“Romney is from a state that is very religious and strongly pro-life. I think he was elected to support a nominee like that. … I would be very surprised if Romney doesn’t vote for the nominee,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) previously told Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine.
Armed with the support of his conference, McConnell can now move ahead with the confirmation process once Trump picks a nominee, which he said he will announce on Saturday. While McConnell’s decision to proceed marks a stark reversal from his 2016 handling of Merrick Garland’s nomination, which he refused to consider during an election year, Republicans’ control of the Senate enables them to proceed however they’d like.
As Vox’s Andrew Prokop has written, it’s possible a final vote on the nominee could take place prior to the election, or during the lame-duck session when Congress reconvenes after the November contest.