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Trump, Biden React To Justice Ginsburg's Death While Visiting Minnesota

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And, of course, the death of Justice Ginsburg vaults the Supreme Court to one of the top issues in the presidential campaign. We're now gathered with Asma Khalid and White House correspondent Tamara Keith. They have been covering the Trump and Biden campaigns.

Asma, you were traveling with Joe Biden. His reaction to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, he got word, Scott, of all of this news just as those of journalists who were traveling with him did, and that was on a plane ride from Minnesota back to Delaware last night. The news broke while we were in the air. And when we landed, Biden came inside the small private jet terminal and delivered a statement. You know, he called Ruth Bader Ginsburg a beloved figure who overcame a lot of obstacles as a woman in the legal world and ended up being on the highest court where she could lead the effort to provide equality for women. He also reminisced over the fact that it was hard for him to believe, but he was actually the person who presided over her confirmation hearing.

You know, I will point out, though, that as much as he was praising her legacy, he also spoke about the political implications of all of this and the need, in his view, to wait until after the election to fill her vacancy.

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JOE BIDEN: Let me be clear that the voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.

KHALID: Biden said that that was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016. And at that point, there was about 10 months to go before the election. And now we're less than two months away, and early voting has actually begun already in a couple of key states.

SIMON: And, Tam, you were with the president at a rally in Minnesota. News, I guess, of the justice's death came in while he was on stage, but he talked about it thereafter. What did he say?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yeah. It was a bit surreal because during his speech, he talked about the courts, about the judges that he's gotten confirmed and the justices multiple times but made no apparent reference to her passing. He seemingly didn't know. Afterwards, the reporters that were traveling with him gathered under the wing of Air Force One, and his campaign soundtrack was still playing, "Tiny Dancer" as he walked over.

I asked him to react to the news, and he responded as if this was the first that he was hearing of Ginsburg's passing.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I didn't know that. I just - you're telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman. Whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life.

KEITH: The White House has lowered its flags to half-staff and called her a titan of the law in a formal statement.

SIMON: That may have been the first the president got the news of Justice Ginsburg's passing, but they have pretty openly been preparing for the possibility - haven't they? - even to the point of issuing the names of judges who would be - jurists who would be considered for an appointment.

KEITH: Yeah. In 2016, after Justice Scalia died, candidate Trump put out a list of potential nominees to fill that vacancy. It was, in part, a way to keep conservatives and evangelicals in line and on board with his campaign. Just 10 days ago, he added another raft of names to that list. There are now more than 40 people on it, including some sitting judges on lower court, even some conservative senators.

President Trump just this morning tweeted that Republicans control the Senate, and he's in office, and they have an obligation to move on this, quote, "without delay." And Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already said that the president's nominee will get a vote in the Senate this year. It's not clear how fast the president will act, but without delay, exclamation point, would indicate pretty soon.

SIMON: Yeah. Asma, this could change the shape of the campaign, couldn't it?

KHALID: Very much so. I mean, look, Scott, I would say up until this point, this election has largely been about COVID, despite President Trump trying to shift it to a conversation about law and order. The question now is whether this will make the courts more central. I know, Tamara, you've been helping me sort of dig into some of the fundraising numbers from ActBlue, and it looks like they've raised more than $30 million from 9 p.m. last night until 9 a.m. this morning. That's just an astounding amount of money. ActBlue is this Democratic online fundraising site. So if there's anything that we can interpret in that, it does seem to be that Democrats are energized and somewhat angry about what could potentially happen in the Senate between now and Election Day.

SIMON: NPR's political correspondent Asma Khalid and White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you both so much for being with us.

KEITH: You're welcome.

KHALID: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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