Donald Trump received a major boost on Tuesday when Republican senator Mitt Romney announced his support for considering the US president’s supreme court nominee.
The move appeared to all but kill off Democrats’ hopes of blocking a successor to liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week aged 87. Two Republican senators have indicated their opposition to confirming a nominee before the November election but Democrats need to peel off two more.
Romney, a former presidential nominee who was the sole Republican who voted to convict Trump of abuse of power at his impeachment trial, was seen as a make-or-break swing vote. He said in a statement: “My decision regarding a supreme court nomination is not the result of a subjective test of ‘fairness’ which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
“It is based on the immutable fairness of following the law, which in this case is the constitution and precedent. The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own.
The Utah senator added: “The constitution gives the president the power to nominate and the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on supreme court nominees. Accordingly, I intend to follow the constitution and precedent in considering the president’s nominee. If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications.”
Romney’s announcement drew immediate criticism. Joe Lockhart, a former White House press secretary under Bill Clinton, tweeted: “Riddle me this Senator Romney. You voted to remove the president [from] office for crimes against the state, yet now you believe that same president should have the right to nominate a supreme court justice. A president you thought was unfit to continue to serve. Explain?”
The decision appeared to give Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, the votes he needs to confirm Trump’s nominee, though he still faces a politically divisive timetable just six weeks before the election.
McConnell and allies such as Senator Lindsey Graham have brushed off charges of hypocrisy after they stonewalled Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s nomination for the court in 2016, also an election year.
Graham told Fox News: “We’ve got the votes to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s replacement before the election. We’re going to move forward in the committee. We’re going to report the nomination out of the committee to the floor of the United States Senate so we can vote before the election.”
But 10 former federal judges, including the former FBI director William Webster, have pleaded with Senate leaders to withhold consideration of a nominee until after inauguration day. The legitimacy of the court “is not something that can be recovered if it is lost”, the judges wrote.
“It is up to you to demonstrate the same restraint demanded of our judiciary.”
Trump has said he intends to nominate a woman to fill the empty seat – his third appointment to the court overall. He tweeted on Tuesday: “I will be announcing my supreme court nominee on Saturday, at the White House! Exact time TBA.”