The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said late Friday that he would move forward with President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
“Americans re-elected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
Mr. McConnell was notably unclear, however, about the timing, whether he would push for such a vote before the election or wait until a lame-duck session afterward. Several of his members face tough election contests and might balk at seeming to rush a nominee through in such highly political conditions.
Senator Susan M. Collins of Maine, the most endangered Republican incumbent, told The New York Times earlier this month that she would not favor voting on a new justice in October. “I think that’s too close, I really do,” she said.
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told an interviewer on Friday shortly before the announcement of Justice Ginsburg’s death that she opposed confirming a new justice before the election. “I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee,” she said. “We are 50 some days away from an election.”
Ms. Murkowski called Justice Ginsburg a “true leader and pioneer” in a fuller statement released Friday night. “She has been a champion and crusader for equal justice and civil liberties and has made an enduring mark on history,” Ms. Murkowski said. “I have the greatest respect for her as a trailblazer among women. I am personally deeply saddened by her passing and know that women around the world who have also admired her tenacity and spirit feel the same.”
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that would consider any nominee, told an interviewer in 2018 that if an opening occurred in the last year of Mr. Trump’s term “we’ll wait to the next election.” Mr. Graham, who is in a competitive race of his own, made no mention of the matter in a statement he issued Friday night mourning Justice Ginsburg.
Stunned Republicans expressed initial skepticism on Friday night that Mr. McConnell would find enough votes to confirm a new justice in the weeks before the election. And some of them thought Mr. McConnell would also be unable to do so in a lame-duck session if Republicans lose the White House and control of the Senate.
Two former Senate Republican leadership aides close to Mr. McConnell read the concluding sentence of his statement — “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate” — to mean that he was not committed to pushing through the confirmation before the election and may wait until the lame-duck session.
Privately, some party strategists warned that if Republicans seated a new justice through before Mr. Biden and a Democratic-controlled Senate were sworn in, Democrats would exact retribution by ending the filibuster and moving to pack the Supreme Court.
Democrats, for their part, moved swiftly to warn Republicans against a hasty confirmation process — echoing Mr. McConnell’s own comments from 2016.
“While no one will ever truly be able to replace Justice Ginsburg, a new president should fill the vacancy,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “Just like Mitch McConnell said.”
President Trump reacted with surprise to the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg moments after leaving the stage in Bemidji, Minn., where he had been delivering a lengthy campaign speech as news of her death became public.
“She just died? I didn’t know that,” Mr. Trump said, speaking briefly to reporters before quickly boarding Air Force One headed back toward Washington. “She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman — whether you agree or not — she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life.”
During his speech, Mr. Trump had clearly appeared to be unaware of the potentially seismic shift to the balance of the Supreme Court that occurred while he was onstage at an airport hangar, where he launched sexist attacks against Hillary Clinton and stoked fears of a flood of Islamic terrorists that would occur if Joseph R. Biden Jr. were elected.
News that Justice Ginsberg had died of metastatic pancreatic cancer on Friday broke about 15 minutes after he took the stage.
Onstage, Mr. Trump said he wanted to appoint Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to the Supreme Court, and later, he noted that “one of the things we have done that is so good with the Supreme Court, we…