The fight over Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court has profound implications for the entire country. But its outcome depends on the personal and political calculations currently being made by a handful of Capitol Hill Republicans who have been bruised, buoyed and bullied by President Trump over the years.
And of that group, this is a Gang of 7 to keep a special eye on in the coming days (more on them below):
Senator Susan Collins of Maine
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa
Here’s the big picture first:
Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who has proudly rammed through dozens of Mr. Trump’s appointments to the federal bench, played to type on Friday, saying it was his intention to schedule a vote on the president’s as-yet unnamed pick Mr. Trump followed up on Saturday, exhorting fence-sitters in the Republican conference to act “without delay.”
But behind the scenes, their front was less unified.
Mr. McConnell is far less enthusiastic about the political implications of an ugly nomination battle during the final weeks of a presidential campaign, according to two Republicans who are close to the leader. And his public statement made no mention of the precise timing of a floor vote, or whether he would call one if he did not have the votes to win.
Mr. McConnell’s control of the majority rests, in large measure, on the fates of three imperiled incumbents on the ballot in November — Ms. Collins, Mr. Gardner and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Late Friday, Mr. McConnell counseled his members to keep their “powder dry” before they convened to discuss matters. Most gladly complied.
Republicans currently hold a 53 to 47 seat advantage over Democrats in the upper chamber. Four Republicans would have to defect in order to overcome Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote and block a potential nominee.
Ms. Murkowski, a frequent critic of the president’s who is, at the moment, unassailably popular in her home state, was the only Senate Republican to come out publicly on Friday against holding a vote before the election.
Mr. Tillis, who is banking on a strategy of maximizing turnout among Mr. Trump’s supporters, seized on the fight like a runner grabbing an energy drink, backing the pre-election approach as a way to keep “radical, left-wing” Biden appointees off the bench. Three other incumbents in tight re-election fights — Martha McSally of Arizona, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and Joni Ernst of Iowa — also expressed support for Mr. McConnell’s plan.
Ms. Collins, who is trailing her Democratic opponent, Sara Gideon, in most recent polls — and who was sharply criticized for backing Brett M. Kavanaugh nomination to the high-court nomination after publicly waffling — said earlier this month that she, too, was opposed to holding a vote this close to the election. But she had nothing new to say as of midday Saturday.
The cone of silence is a big tent. Mr. Graham — the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would oversee the confirmation process — and Mr. Grassley had both said they would oppose a rushed pre-election vote. Mr. Grassley stayed mum. Mr. Graham has backtracked, and on Saturday pointed to his recent remark that “the rules have changed” since the Kavanaugh fight.
Mr. Graham said in 2018 that “if an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait till the next election,” in keeping with Mr. McConnell’s justification for blocking President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland months before the 2016 election.
Then there’s Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s 2012 nominee and the most outspoken Republican critic of Mr. Trump in the Senate. When a reporter suggested on Twitter late Friday that Mr. Romney was planning to oppose Mr. McConnell, his press secretary shot back that the statement was “grossly false,” but offered no further guidance.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, told his caucus on Saturday that “nothing is off the table for next year” if Republicans pushed through a Supreme Court nomination in the coming weeks, signaling that a Senate Democratic majority could be open to forcing drastic changes to the Senate institution and the Supreme Court.
With Republicans in control of the Senate, Democrats have few tools at their disposal to block a simple majority vote on a Supreme Court nomination to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But Mr. Schumer indicated that Democrats would instead look to retaliate with institutional changes if they flipped the Senate in November.
“Our number one goal must be to communicate the stakes of this Supreme Court fight to the American people,” Mr. Schumer said, according to a Democrat on the call, who disclosed details of a private conversation on condition of anonymity. “Everything Americans value is at stake.
“Health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change, and so much else is at risk.”
In the titanic political battle over a Supreme Court vacancy that is sure to upend the general election, numerous Democratic challengers all offered a clear and cohesive stance: any nomination should wait until after the presidential election.
In North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, the Democratic challenger, is locked in a close race with Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican. On Saturday, Mr. Cunningham noted that early voting had already started in the election, and was cause enough to hold back any nomination votes.
“North Carolinians are already voting and will continue to do so in the coming weeks,” Mr. Cunningham wrote on Facebook. “They deserve that opportunity to have their voices heard, and then, it should be up to the next President and next Senate to fill the vacancy on our Court.”
His opponent, Mr. Tillis, had released a statement early on Saturday saying he would back a nomination vote. A recent poll by The New York Times found Mr. Cunningham with a five-point lead over Mr. Tillis.
In Iowa, Theresa Greenfield, the Democratic challenger to Senator Joni Ernst, another Republican freshman, also called on the Senate to wait until after the election, noting the current cases before the court.
“The next Supreme Court Justice will have power over our access to health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, workers’ rights, and the rules of our democracy for the rest of their lives,” Ms. Greenfield said in a statement. “The only way to truly respect our independent voices in Iowa is by waiting to fill this seat until the next U.S. Senate and President we’re about to vote for take office.”
Ms. Ernst indicated earlier this year that she would support any nomination hearings were a vacancy to open up during the final year of Mr. Trump’s first term.
In Kentucky, Amy McGrath, the Democratic challenger to Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, lamented in a statement the quick “pouncing on the death of a patriot for political purposes” and noted that Mr. McConnell was “contradicting his stance on filling vacancies” by supporting a floor vote.
“I’ll save the political rhetoric for another day,” she wrote on Twitter. “But I want Kentuckians to know: if the “McConnell Rule” was good enough in 2016, it should be good enough in 2020, and I will fight him every step of the way on this.”
On Saturday afternoon, more than 100 protesters had gathered outside Mr. McConnell’s Louisville home, chanting “vote him out.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also put out a statement and a fund-raising page with a focus on the Supreme Court.
“The stakes have never been higher,” the group wrote on Twitter. “The future of the Supreme Court is on the line.”
Shaken by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, progressive groups and activist leaders are pressing Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, to lead the party’s pushback against any attempts from President Trump and Republicans to seize the moment and fill her seat on the Supreme Court.
On Saturday morning, just 12 hours after her death was announced, groups on the party’s left had settled into a holding pattern — to see what Republicans will do in Congress and what the next steps might be from Mr. Biden’s campaign.
Some revived calls to add more justices to the bench in an attempt to nullify what they feel was a seat stolen by Republicans in 2016.
But most groups, understanding Mr. Biden’s commitment to traditionalism and moderation, said his best role would be as resister-in-chief, pressuring Republicans to stick with previous commitments to not appoint a Supreme Court justice during an election year.
With that in mind, four liberal groups — People For the American Way, Alliance for Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Women’s Law Center — scheduled a press call for Saturday afternoon on the topic of how to pressure Republicans going forward.
Mondaire Jones, a progressive Democratic nominee to a New York House seat who is likely to win in November, said in a statement that expanding the court was an idea that Democrats should embrace.
“We must expand the Supreme Court to 13 seats, and allow President Biden to fill those vacancies,” Mr. Jones said. “If we sit back and watch as another seat on the Supreme Court is stolen from us, we resign ourselves to a generation’s worth of defeat at the hands of six people installed by a right-wing, minoritarian government. We owe it to ourselves and to the American people to fight that looming doomsday scenario with every tool at our disposal.”
For his part, Mr. Biden rejected calls for expanding the court during the Democratic primary, and has given little indication that he has embraced the idea in recent months. Still, progressives are trying to hold the line, pushing for bigger reforms even as moderate Democrats like Mr. Biden may reject them.
In the short term, each side is focused on applying public pressure to conservatives — particularly vulnerable Republican senators such as Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Heather McGhee, the former president of Demos and a progressive leader, said the best actions for left-leaning Democrats right now was to target the Senate and push the next administration to embrace its ideals.
“In 2021, we will fix the democracy the G.O.P. has broken: a modern, expanded court, an end to the Jim Crow relic filibuster, a right-to-vote constitutional amendment and statehood,” she said. “First stop: flip the Senate.”
As campaigns prepare for an increasingly contentious election in November, with the Supreme Court on the ballot once again, voter registration efforts from both parties are sure to ramp up. In more than a dozen battleground states and across the country, deadlines to register are coming up in October, but almost half of states have same-day voter registration up until Election Day.
Here are the deadlines for each state.
In battleground states
October 5: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Texas
October 19: Pennsylvania
October 23: Nebraska
October 30: Wisconsin
October 31: North Carolina*
Same-day voter registration on Nov. 3, Election Day:
Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire
October 4: Alaska, Rhode Island
October 5: Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee
October 6: Missouri
October 9: New York, Oklahoma
October 10: Delaware
October 13: Kansas, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia
October 19: Alabama, South Dakota
October 24: Massachusets
October 31: New Mexico
Same-day voter registration on Nov. 3, Election Day:
California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming
*North Carolina has same day voter registration, but not on Election Day.
Democratic donors gave more money online in the 9 p.m. hour Friday after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was announced — $6.2 million — than in any other single hour since ActBlue, the donation-processing site, was started 16 years ago.
Then donors broke the site’s record again in the 10 p.m. hour when donors gave another $6.3 million — more than $100,000 per minute.
The unprecedented outpouring shows the power of a looming Supreme Court confirmation fight to motivate Democratic donors. The previous biggest hour, on Aug. 20, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke on the final night of the Democratic convention, saw $4.3 million in donations processed, according to an ActBlue spokesperson.
Before noon on Saturday, donations to Democratic causes and campaigns on ActBlue since Justice Ginsburg’s passing had topped $45 million.
ActBlue does not show where donations go in real time but much of the grassroots energy appeared focused on the Senate, which would have the power to confirm or block any nominee picked by President Trump.
Hours after Justice Ginsburg’s death, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, pledged that whomever Mr. Trump picked to replace her would receive a confirmation vote. “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” he said in a statement.
Democratic donors flooded into at least one page dedicated to key Senate races, called Get Mitch or Die Trying. The page, created by the progressive group Crooked Media, had raised about $9 million in new donations since Justice Ginsburg’s death was announced, as of noon on Saturday, and will divide the proceeds between 13 different Democrats running for Senate this year.
“The conventional wisdom is that the Supreme Court only motivates Republicans, but these fund-raising totals demonstrate that that has changed,” said Tommy Vietor, a founder of Crooked Media and a veteran of the Obama administration.
Supreme Court confirmation fights have led to big swells of donations before. The Senate hearings and votes on Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018 drove record donations into the campaign coffers of then-Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a centrist Democrat who raised $12.4 million in the first half of October after she announced she would oppose his nomination. She was defeated in her re-election bid the next month.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death revived talk about an idea that has been bandied about for years but, until recently, not feasibly considered by people in a position to enact it: court packing.
The term is commonly associated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who pushed legislation in 1937 that could have expanded the Supreme Court from nine to as many as 15 justices.
The history is more complicated than the usual narrative suggests: Mr. Roosevelt, aiming to push older justices to step down, wanted to add a justice to the court for each sitting justice who refused to retire after 70.
More than eight decades later, the idea of expanding the court is back. In 2016, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, refused to hold a Senate vote on Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Mr. McConnell held the seat open until after the inauguration of President Trump, who nominated Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a move that led some Democrats to suggest expanding the court. They argued that Republicans had “stolen” a seat that should have been filled by Mr. Obama, and that Democrats would be justified in adding seats to shift the ideological balance back.
Republicans have called the idea radical and undemocratic, and some Democrats have feared that it could backfire.
Although the Supreme Court has consisted of nine justices for well over a century, the Constitution does not require that number, and Congress changed the size of the court several times between its establishment and the Civil War.
In interviews with more than a dozen voters in battleground states on Friday night and Saturday morning, The Times found that Democratic and Republican voters were largely racing to partisan corners regarding how they think President Trump and Senate Republicans should proceed in filling the Supreme Court seat held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
But among independent and undecided voters, there was less of a pattern: Some said they were still mulling how the coming fight over the court could tilt their thinking — and their decision about which presidential candidate to support.
In an interview Friday afternoon inside the clothing store where she was working in Bemidji, Minn., the city where Mr. Trump held a rally later Friday night, Rachel Harris indicated that she was undecided about who to vote for in November.
But after hearing the news about Justice Ginsburg, Ms. Harris emailed Friday night to say she had made up her mind.
“I will be voting for Biden,” she wrote before raising the issue of abortion rights. “I care about my rights and they will be taken away if Trump continues to be president.”
Brendan Tanner, an independent voter in Peoria, Ariz., was among those with a mixed mind. Mr. Tanner said he is leaning toward voting for Mr. Trump, but is also considering sitting out the election because he sees deep flaws in both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. And if Mr. Trump were to press forward with a court nomination, it would only add to his list of grievances with the president.
Mr. Tanner said it wouldn’t be “fair” to “sneak” in a Supreme Court pick with less than two months to go before the election.
“When you’re talking about a Supreme Court justice who is going to serve until they want to quit or until the end of their life, that’s a huge decision that’s going to affect generations — and that’s something that needs to be considered very carefully,” he said. “I think it should wait.”
But both Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Biden’s most fervent supporters were less circumspect.
Waiting for shuttle buses after attending the president’s rally in Bemidji, voter after voter said he should act quickly to seat a new justice.
“Do it now,” said Laurie Christianson, who drove from her home in Moorhead, Minn., two hours away, to the rally.
Lucila Flores, a Democrat in Phoenix who plans to vote for Mr. Biden, said that Republicans moving to appoint a nominee of their choosing would essentially be a partisan move meant to protect legislation and laws popular with conservatives. She insisted that she would also support waiting to name a replacement if the roles were reversed and a Democrat was president.
“It shouldn’t be done,” she said, adding that Mr. Biden and other Democrats should pressure senators to hold out, at least until after Nov. 3.
Bob Phillips, the Republican chairman of the county commissioners in Lebanon County, Pa., predicted that the fight over Justice Ginsburg’s replacement would motivate voters like Ms. Christianson and Ms. Flores on both sides of the political spectrum.
“I think that could be another layer of energy that will be overlaid on this thing,” he said. “The timing is amazing, and I do think it’s going to be a factor.”
In a letter Friday night, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, urged his Republican colleagues “to be cautious and keep your powder dry until we return to Washington.”
But one G.O.P. senator is already making the case for not voting on a Supreme Court replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg until after Election Day.
“If we fail before the election, it really deflates our side,” said this senator. “And even if we succeed, it takes the prize off the table. And I think the prize is pretty motivational.”
In light of the sensitivities around the issue, and Mr. McConnell’s admonition, the lawmaker requested anonymity to offer a candid assessment of this extraordinary moment.
The senator, who had not spoken to Mr. McConnell, predicted the leader would come around to this calculation. “I’d be surprised if he doesn’t,” the senator said.
Because Mr. McConnell cares primarily about politics, and specifically retaining power, said the lawmaker. And to try to push a nominee through before the election could risk a demoralizing loss on the Senate floor — or simply force Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona into taking votes that would likely doom their electoral chances.