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Republicans Will Attempt To Push Through A Supreme Court Nominee

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump says he'll announce his pick to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising a vote on the nominee this year. Many people say McConnell is a hypocrite. He refused to consider President Obama's nominee in 2016 because he said the American people should vote for president first. Notably, the 2020 presidential election is only six weeks away.

Steven Groves worked in the Trump administration. He was a special assistant to the president and deputy press secretary until June of this year. He's now a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Good morning, Mr. Groves.

STEVEN GROVES: Good morning, Noel. Thanks for having me on.

KING: We appreciate you being here. There are strategy-minded people saying the following. President Trump is down in national polls. RealClearPolitics has him 6 1/2 points behind Joe Biden. He's also trailing Biden in Florida and Pennsylvania - really important states. So, they ask, should he wait on the nomination so that conservative voters are motivated to go out to the polls and reelect him?

GROVES: Yeah, I mean, that's what strategists do. I think they sometimes get twisted around their axles on timing and how exactly to pull something off perfectly. The real world, unfortunately, doesn't work that easily. You should really take the best path forward, which is to push forward with what you have, get things done, talk about it on the campaign trail and, you know, use your office to ensure that your legacy on the court continues. So I would disagree with any strategists about delaying something for the sake of the electoral process. The important thing is they get the right person in that seat.

KING: But then is the urgency to confirm a new justice the fear that President Trump may lose?

GROVES: No, I don't think that there's going to be any Republican voters out there that are so hung up on his timing or sequencing of events that it's going to affect their vote one way or the other when it comes to - you know, in November.

KING: A Reuters poll taken after Justice Ginsburg died found that 62% of Americans think the vacancy should be filled by whoever wins the election. Half of Republicans said that. Should the president consider what a majority of Americans want?

GROVES: Well, I'm sure his campaign is keeping track of all the polling on this. Sometimes, this might come down to making sure that, you know, his base is locked in for November. And, you know, you have to go and govern based on what your duties and obligations are as a president, regardless of what a poll may or may not say.

KING: True. But the question is whether his base is big enough. I mean, half of Republicans say he should wait, like 50%. It's cutting it close.

GROVES: Well, as the question, electorally, has always been whether his base was big enough - that was the question in 2016, as well - I think his campaign is going to be betting that it is big enough. I suspect that it is on the - in the grand scheme of things, getting the seat filled prior to the election outweighs waiting until after the election, a potential defeat and then having to deal with all of the questions of legitimacy regarding both the nomination and the Senate vote, should the Senate flip, which - it could flip.

KING: Let's talk about that. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said if a nominee is pushed through, that "nothing is off the table." That's a quote there. Democrats talk of expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court. Now, of course, Democrats would need to win, but this is looking like a strong motivator for the Democratic Party. The fundraising site ActBlue reported raising more than $100 million over the weekend after Justice Ginsburg passed. Is this risky for Republicans and for the White House that Democrats are now so motivated?

GROVES: Well, the nomination's going to energize both sides. The Democrats and their base, I think, were energized enough. The risk, again, that they could be more energized by this is something that a president has to take. It's - you know, the polls are showing he's behind right now anyway. I'd much rather have a third Supreme Court justice on the court and - if the president loses than not have a third Supreme Court justice on the court if the president loses. So as energized as Democrats are going to get, more important to get a new conservative justice in that seat.

KING: Yesterday, we talked to Adam White on MORNING EDITION. He's a legal scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. And he said, in so many words, this is hypocrisy on the part of Republicans. Let's listen to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ADAM WHITE: Republican senators are going against something that they said very loudly in 2016 - namely, there should not be a vote during an election year. I understand that the circumstances are different. I understand that they refer to that from time to time. But I think this goes against the clear thrust of what they said last time. They should delay the vote until after the election.

KING: Your response?

GROVES: Well, sure. I mean, there's really been hypocrisy on both sides here. Back in 2016, you know, President Obama, Chuck Schumer and the entire Democratic Senate caucus started the hashtag #DoYourJob, demanding that the Senate do its job and get the Garland nomination, you know, through. This is just what the Republicans are saying. Now the Democrats are saying the opposite. So plenty of hypocrisy to go on both sides here.

KING: Steven Groves of The Heritage Foundation. Thank you so much for your time, sir. We appreciate it.

GROVES: Thanks for having me on, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.