GOP senators say they are confident there will be sufficient time to vet whomever Trump announces as his pick on Saturday, particularly if the nominee is someone already known to senators, such as Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. She is by far the leading candidate, according to people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to publicly comment on them, as Trump mulls his third pick for the Supreme Court.
Despite discussions earlier this week about Trump interviewing another finalist, Judge Barbara Lagoa of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, later this week in Florida, the president said at a news conference late Wednesday that he had no plans to meet with her. He also suggested he had already selected someone, referring to “the person I chose.”
“It’s time for a woman to be chosen, with everything that’s happened and with Justice Ginsburg’s passing,” Trump said.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) defended voting on a nominee before the election: “I think this needs to take as long as it needs to take, but it doesn’t need to be drug out.”
Graham, a close Trump ally, has not publicly confirmed his timeline for hearings and plans to refrain from doing until after the president unveils his candidate on Saturday. But he has sketched out a schedule that would begin hearings the week of Oct. 12 and compress the time usually afforded to senators to submit written questions to the nominee, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are fluid.
Under Graham’s tentative scenario, his committee would vote near the end of the week of Oct. 19 on the nominee, and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would move rapidly to take the procedural steps to hold a final confirmation vote before the end of the month, just days before the election.
“The timing between now and Election Day is entirely consistent with long-standing Senate precedent,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a Judiciary Committee member.
Asked if he’s worried about timing and Democrats moving to slow things down, Graham said Wednesday, “My hope is we’ll be able to do it in a fashion that we cannot deviate from the norms too much.”
Senior Republican officials stressed that the schedule was still being revised and that it would only be finalized once Trump’s announcement is made.
The emerging timeline provoked furor from Democratic senators and party activists, who have pledged fierce efforts to try to prevent Ginsburg’s seat from being filled by Trump with a reliably conservative jurist. The 16 days that would pass from Trump’s planned announcement Saturday to an Oct. 12 hearing start would by far be the shortest in modern times.
“This entire process is a charade,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “This president shouldn’t even be nominating a replacement to Justice Ginsburg’s seat so close to an election. Republicans are only compounding that mistake by rushing the process.”
Democratic senators continue to assess their minimal procedural options. On a strategizing call Wednesday afternoon with Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee, there appeared to be some consensus that the hearings should not be boycotted as some have suggested, according to one official directly familiar with the discussion who was not authorized to publicly comment on it.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) invoked an obscure procedural rule often used as a protest tactic by the minority party that prevented Senate committees from convening in the afternoon. But that halted a critical Intelligence Committee hearing with a top elections security official, and Democrats opted not to pull that maneuver again on Wednesday.
“We have no magic panacea, right? We can’t force the Republicans to keep their word any more that we can force them to care about the health care of their constituents,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee. “But we can make our case there in the committee and publicly to the American people.”
Another option that has been floating in Senate circles is delaying consideration of a must-pass spending measure to avert a government shutdown later this month. The House overwhelmingly passed the legislation Tuesday to keep the federal government operating until Dec. 11, but there has been some discussion about using that measure as a way to register Democratic objections to Republican plans to rush the process.
“I don’t know what Chuck’s strategy is at this point,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said of Schumer. “It’s his decision” on delaying the stopgap funding measure, Durbin said.
Since 1990, Supreme Court nominees have, on average, had 50 days from when they were nominated to the start of their confirmation hearings, according to statistics compiled by Demand Justice, a liberal advocacy group fighting Trump’s judicial nominations. That varied from 28 days for Ginsburg in 1993 to as many as 60 days for Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Trump’s two Supreme Court picks, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, waited 47 and 56 days, respectively, for their confirmation hearings.
Some Republicans said Wednesday that those timetables are somewhat padded because resignations from the court are often announced in June and the Senate waits until lawmakers return from the August recess to hold confirmation hearings. Still, the time in between is generally used for senators and senior aides to vet the reams of paperwork that arrive at the Judiciary Committee, as well as for senators to prepare for the question time they each get at the high-profile hearings.
The nominee also usually does a round of courtesy visits with senators before and after a confirmation hearing, although those meetings are more of a tradition and are not required.
GOP senators have emphasized repeatedly that the Senate can move promptly on a nomination. Ginsburg herself was confirmed in 42 days in 1993, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed in 33 days in 1981, and it took a mere 19 days for Justice John Paul Stevens to be seated in 1975.
But those nominations came in less fiercely partisan times, when there was more consensus not just around a president’s picks but also on the process to be used for nominees of all kinds.
“Let me go ahead and predict that regardless of how much time might be allotted for a confirmation hearing, there will be those who indicate that we should want additional time for further vetting,” said Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.). “I have high confidence that Senator Graham’s going to ensure that the committee conducts its hearing conscientiously and thoroughly.”
There also needs to be time for the FBI to do an investigation of the nominee’s background, although it is unclear how the Senate’s schedule for the nomination might affect the check.
Background check investigations are not like criminal investigations, which are conducted independently from administration oversight to determine whether someone should be charged with a crime. Rather, they are investigations conducted at the direction and specifications of the White House to answer particular questions about a nominee or job candidate.
Given the fights surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray is likely to be asked about the Supreme Court background check issue when he testifies Thursday in front of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. An FBI spokeswoman did not immediately comment Wednesday about the issue.
Meanwhile, Trump stressed at the White House on Wednesday that he wanted someone confirmed by Nov. 3. As he had on Tuesday, he also explicitly made the link between having a full complement of nine justices and a potential need for the Supreme Court to rule on a disputed election result.
“This scam that the Democrats are pulling — it’s a scam — this scam will be before the United States Supreme Court,” he said. “And I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation, if you get that.”
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.