President Donald Trump's push to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court received a boost yesterday as a longtime rival, Republican Senator Mitt Romney, said the chamber should vote on a replacement for liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Romney's decision left Democrats with few hopes of blocking Senate confirmation of the Republican president's third appointment to the nine-member high court, giving it a 6-3 conservative majority. Trump has said he plans to announce his nominee by Saturday.
Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee, is one of the few Republicans in Congress willing to criticise Trump, and he even voted to remove him from office in the February impeachment trial.
But he dismissed Democratic arguments that the Senate should wait until after voters decide whether to re-elect Trump or chose his Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the November 3 presidential election.
"I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the president's nominee," he said.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and they can afford few defections after two of their members, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Maine's Susan Collins, said the Senate should not consider a nominee this year.
Collins faces a strong challenge from a Democrat aiming to oust her in the November election, when control of the Senate is at stake along with the White House race.
Democrats accuse Republican lawmakers of hypocrisy, pointing out that they refused to even consider Democratic President Barack Obama's nominee to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat in 2016 because it was an election year.
Romney said that was not a concern for him, as Washington was split between a Democratic president and a Republican Senate that year, while this year Republicans control both.
"My liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court. And that's not written in the stars," he told reporters.
Trump has mentioned two women federal appeals court judges that he appointed as candidates for the high court. They are Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump met with Barrett at the White House on Monday, according to a source familiar with the situation.