Anyone confidently predicting one way or another whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can seat a new justice on the Supreme Court is blustering. Here is the only thing that’s certain: The coming fight will not be resolved by principle—no matter how senators talk or what principles they profess. It will be resolved by legislative gamesmanship, voting strength, and power politics.
Four major questions will determine the outcome of this struggle, set off by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg only six weeks before Americans finish voting for both president and control of the Senate, and only four months before a new Congress gets sworn in.
The first is whether McConnell actually has the votes. Right now, there are 53 Republicans in the Senate, and recent statements from senators suggest that enough of them support holding a vote on the nominee put forward by President Trump this year for the process to move forward.
Only two GOP senators are opposed to forcing someone through before the next president takes office. Susan Collins, facing a tough electoral environment in Maine following her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, announced Saturday that “the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd.” Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted against Kavanaugh, coincidentally declared hours before Ginsburg’s death was announced, “I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee.” She reiterated that position following Ginsburg’s death: “For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed."