With the senator for Utah, Mitt Romney, announcing he will vote to confirm Donald Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court “based on their qualifications”, Republicans have secured enough votes to advance the president’s pick.
“My decision regarding a Supreme Court nomination is not the result of a subjective test of ‘fairness’ which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is based on the immediate fairness of following the law, which in this case is the constitution and precedent,” Mr Romney said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own,” he said.
“I intend to follow the constitution and precedent in considering the president’s nominee. If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications.”
While Mr Romney did not commit to rubber-stamping Mr Trump’s selection to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the fact that he is willing to vote on a nominee in an election year is a blow to Democrats who are hoping to block the president’s nominee as when the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, blocked Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in 2016.
Mr McConnell has not officially announced a timeline for the confirmation process, but he has said there is plenty of time to hold a confirmation vote by the elections on 3 November.
“We're going to keep our word once again — we're going to vote on this nomination on this floor,” the Kentucky Republican, who is also up for re-election this year, said on Tuesday.
At a campaign rally near Toledo, Ohio, on Monday, Mr Trump reaffirmed his commitment to nominating a woman to the Supreme Court. He will make his selection “probably” on Saturday, after all funeral ceremonies for Justice Ginsburg have concluded.
In a Fox News interview on Monday evening, the president’s close ally Lindsey Graham said Senate Republicans would confirm that pick before the 2020 election.
The leading candidates are reportedly federal appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett of the seventh circuit and Barbara Lagoa of the 11th circuit, although the official shortlist includes three other female judges.
The president met with Ms Barrett at the White House on Monday afternoon before boarding Air Force One for Ohio.
“She's one of the people that's very respected, but they're all respected,” Mr Trump told reporters, when asked about Ms Barrett. “She is certainly one of the candidates, yes.”
Senate Democrats had been holding out hope that Mr Romney and one other Republican would join GOP Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in blocking Mr Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg.
Scores of Republicans have backtracked on their position from 2016 that election years are not a time in which to select Supreme Court justices.
Mr McConnell has now said that Mr Obama was asking for an “unusual favour” in 2016 for a GOP-controlled Senate to confirm an opposite-party president’s nominee seven months away from a presidential election.
The difference now, less than seven weeks before the 2020 election, is that Republicans control both the White House and the Senate, Mr McConnell said.
The Republicans’ argument for blocking Mr Garland in 2016 does not square with their decision to move forward with Mr Trump’s nominee this year, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, has said.
“Leader McConnell has defiled the Senate like no one in this generation, and [he] may very well destroy it,” the New York Democrat said on Tuesday.
“If leader McConnell presses forward, the Republican majority will have stolen two Supreme Court seats four years apart, using completely contradictory, rash analysis,” he said.