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Week In Politics: President Trump To Announce Supreme Court Nominee

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We expect President Trump to officially announce this afternoon that Amy Coney Barrett is his choice for the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course, this comes just 38 days before Election Day. In fact, many people in some states are voting already. But Senate Republicans say they hope for a quick confirmation. We turn now to NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Even before there was a name, Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he can hold hearings and schedule a vote in enough time for the Senate to vote before Election Day. Now, putting aside questions that have been raised this week about the contradiction between that position and the position Senate Republicans had four years ago, is a rapid confirmation possible?

ELVING: It appears anything is possible, Scott, when you have a Senate majority facing a political ultimatum from a president they support - an ultimatum that comes with a political deadline, an election. Under different circumstances, you can bet many of the same senators would be waxing eloquent, as only senators can, about the need for deliberation and due deliberate - due deliberation - diligence, the need for lots of vetting and extensive hearings, rounds of questions, a full-length floor debate. But right now, the president is saying those things amount to nothing more than delay, and his troops in the Senate are falling in line.

SIMON: The president was hardly subtle in citing the upcoming election as hastening what he sees as the need for a new justice.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think this will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it's very important that we have nine justices.

SIMON: Now, eight justices can decide any case that arises from any election, can't they?

ELVING: Yes, so long as they can get a majority for that decision. But they could have some 4-4 ties, which would mean that the rulings of lower courts would then stand, and the president might lose in some of those rulings. So he wants nine justices here in Washington, three of whom will have been his picks.

But eight justices was all we had for a full year after Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016. Senate Republicans did not see a problem with that at the time. They said the American people should have a say in who chose the new justice. And as it turns out, the American people still want to have a say, Scott. An ABC-Washington Post poll released Friday had almost 60% of Americans saying that the choice of a new justice should wait until after the election, including 60% of independents.

But, look; this is not a majoritarian presidency. Trump did not win even a plurality when he was elected, and he has made relatively little effort to expand his base since. If anything, he's more committed than ever to hardening his base boot (ph) and keeping it highly motivated.

SIMON: And, of course, an astonishing moment in Wednesday's briefing this week. Let's just listen to it one more time.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will you commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transferal of power after the election?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to have to see what happens. You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But people are rioting. Do you commit to making sure that there's a peaceful transferal of power?

TRUMP: We want to have - get rid of the ballots, and you'll have a very transfer - we'll have a very peaceful - there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation.

ELVING: Now, when the president says, get rid of the ballots, Scott, he's talking about votes that are mailed in rather than cast in person. Now, that might include the president's own absentee ballot. But setting that aside, most of the people asking for absentee ballots this year have been Democrats so far. Absentee ballots can take longer to count, and the president is clearly concerned that as those ballots come in and are counted, any lead that he might have on election night will be endangered.

SIMON: Of course, Ron, as we cast back over American history, for a long time, people were denied the right to vote because of gender or race, then roadblocks were set up to discourage voting during the Jim Crow era and other impediments that persist to this day. Are we seeing this year an imperfect system more clearly or seeing an already imperfect system beginning to fail?

ELVING: Much that has happened this year has disrupted that system and shown the flaws of our system in a harsh light. But if there is a silver lining in all of this, Scott, it may be the increased awareness Americans have about the need to get involved, get some good information, make sure they're registered and make sure they vote. And that greater awareness - that just could be important.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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