WASHINGTON – Sen. Mitt Romney is having a homecoming moment.
The Utah Republican and 2012 GOP presidential nominee incensed President Donald Trump and Republicans with his impeachment vote. But on Tuesday he cleared the way for his party to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday at age 87, overcoming Democratic objections that it's too close to the Nov. 3 election to consider a nominee.
By lunchtime Tuesday, “#HesaRepublican" was trending on Twitter.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has never run as anything but a Republican. But his loyalty to the GOP under Trump's control has long been questioned and mocked by the president and his supporters. Romney, in turn, has called Trump unfit to serve. He was the lone Republican senator to vote to convict the president on an impeachment charge, a perceived apostasy that Trump and his allies won't soon forgive.
So it was notable when their positions aligned, for the moment, on the need to replace the unquestioned leader of the high court's liberal wing.
“I’m not trying to make anybody happy. I’m just trying to do what I think is right,” Romney told reporters Tuesday.
Trump and McConnell have launched one of the quickest confirmation processes in modern times. No court nominee in U.S. history has been considered so close to a presidential election. Trump says he expects to announce his pick on Saturday, before Ginsburg is buried next week at Arlington National Cemetery.
In fact, Senate math makes clear that Democrats had almost no recourse to stop majority Republicans from moving ahead on the matter. It takes four Republicans in a Senate split 53-47 to keep the president's nominee off the high court. But three defections would have forced Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie, and two Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, had said they'd oppose filling the seat before the election.
As Trump met with conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday, all eyes focused on Romney.
Romney said Tuesday that he had let McConnell, who controls the Senate floor, know of his intention to line up behind the effort to move ahead. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, Romney's vice presidential running mate in 2012, called to offer support.
Without speaking to anyone at the White House, Romney then made his decision official, clearing the way for the Senate to move ahead.
"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,” Romney said. He wants the next justice to make decisions based on the Constitution and the law.
Romney also spoke to the idea that a conservative bench might provide a sort of national ballast, especially if Americans choose Democrat Joe Biden over Trump and a Democratic majority in the Senate.
“It’s also appropriate for a nation which is, if you will, center right, to have a court which reflects a center-right point of view,” Romney said.
And notably, he virtually adopted McConnell's talking points on the prospect of confirming someone to a lifetime position on the high court so close to a presidential election. In 2016, Senate Republicans cited that same reason for blocking President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland from the bench, raising cries of hypocrisy from Democrats now.
McConnell, and now Romney, says there is precedent for both. The main difference, they and other Republicans argue, is that unlike 2016, when the White House and Senate were controlled by different parties, both are now under Republican control.
But Romney's statements also contained some qualifications. Romney would not, for example, voice an opinion on any specific potential Trump nominee. He declined to say whether it would be right for Republicans to fill the seat if Democrats win the presidency or control of the Senate.
Supporting the GOP effort to replace Ginsburg, Romney said, represented his “intention” — for now.
“Most of us came to the Senate, ran for the Senate, in a lot of ways for big moments like this, for an opportunity to fill seats on the Supreme Court," said Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.
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