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Sen. Mitt Romney To Support A Vote On A SCOTUS Nominee

NOEL KING, HOST:

Senate Republicans appear to have the votes to approve President Trump's nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who everybody was waiting to hear from, announced today that he supports holding the vote this year.

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MITT ROMNEY: You know, I think at this stage, it's appropriate to look at the Constitution and to look at the precedent, which has existed over - well, since the beginning of our country's history.

KING: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following this one. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: How did Mitt Romney explain his decision?

SNELL: You know, as we heard, he said he was looking to the Constitution. He told reporters in the hallways of Congress today that he understands why liberals are upset about this. But he says that nobody guaranteed a liberal-leaning Supreme Court. Here's how he explained his thinking on that.

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ROMNEY: But it's also appropriate for a nation, which is, if you will, center-right to have a court which reflects center-right points of view.

SNELL: Basically, he said that this is a chance for the Senate to have a mark on the court for a long time to come. And his support means that Republicans have the magic number of at least 50 people who support moving ahead regardless of this being an election year. So far, only two Republicans have said that they disagree, that's Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - notably, two Republican women who are pro-choice in the Senate. So this moves forward. We just have to wait and see who the nominee will be.

KING: Well, President Trump - once we do know who the nominee will be, President Trump wants a vote on that nominee before the election in November. Does this now mean that that's going to happen?

SNELL: It's unclear because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been really careful not to say exactly when the vote will happen in part because it would be a near record-breaking feat for - to get a nomination passed and approved between now and Election Day. That's just 42 days away. Republican senators reminded reporters repeatedly yesterday that it took exactly that many days, 42, for the Senate to approve Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Now, Trump says the nominee will be announced on Saturday at the White House. So that's subtracting days from an already short timeline. The one thing that is working to their advantage timing wise is if President Trump nominates somebody who has already been recently vetted by the Senate. Many of these senators have already voted for several of the people whose names have been floated, like Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa.

KING: And that's because President Trump has filled two other justice spots in his time as president. So is there anything the Democrats can do at this point to slow this whole thing down or to stop it altogether?

SNELL: Well, the minority party, the Democrats, can't block a vote if Senator McConnell has the votes to move ahead. But they really are already starting to mount a massive pressure campaign. They're making this vote about more than just a nominee for the Supreme Court. They're talking about the future of the Affordable Care Act. They're talking about abortion rights. They're talking about major, major issues in the country. You know, this is also a situation where they're trying to drive the point home to voters, who are making decisions about whether or not Democrats should have control of the Senate, not just the White House next year.

Importantly, Martha McSally in Arizona, the current senator in Arizona, is running against Mark Kelly in a special election. And he could potentially join the Senate in November, which would make the path for a Supreme Court nominee more difficult. So there are a lot of considerations still up in the air when it comes to timing and how Democrats will respond.

KING: OK. NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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