Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death Friday is about to consume everything in American politics.
It is not just that liberals will mourn her passing as a progressive folk hero. It is not just the tributes that will come from Americans of all walks of life, who admired her grit and intellect — even those who disagreed with the decisions she made from the court.
Who she was, what she represented, and the mere timing of her death will basically freeze politics until the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 — and beyond.
Here are three things to watch going forward:
Will McConnell have the votes?
Yes, there will be a funeral. But looming over all of this is: What happens with Ginsburg’s seat?
From all appearances, Ginsburg understood that.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ginsburg told her granddaughter as a dying wish, according to NPR.
Shortly after the news of her death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) signaled he didn’t intend to wait that long. McConnell released a statement Friday night that said “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
McConnell’s intentions may seem hypocritical to some — after all, he’s the same politician who refused to allow a hearing or vote for Merrick Garland, a nominee of President Obama, until after the 2016 election.
However, McConnell may not end up proceeding if he doesn’t have the votes.
It takes 51 votes to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. The Republicans currently have 53 seats in the Senate. But if four Republicans decide the vote should wait until after the election, then McConnell simply doesn’t have the support to proceed.
Maine’s Susan Collins, for example, could be a Republican swing vote. The longtime senator received blowback for support of Trump’s prior Supreme Court picks and is facing a strong Democratic challenger in Sara Gideon for her seat this November. The New York Times reported that Collins said in an interview this month she would not seat a Supreme Court justice in October and that she would oppose a lame-duck nomination from Trump if he lost the election.
That would be one vote. Hours before Ginsburg’s death, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski said she would not vote on a replacement until after Election Day.
And then there is Utah’s Mitt Romney, who has bucked his party repeatedly on what he said were matters of principle, including being the lone Republican to vote to impeachment Trump.
The fourth Republican to watch? The Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham. In 2018, he said he would not support a Supreme Court replacement at all in the last year of Trump’s first term. But he is also up for reelection and in a competitive race, so he might need support from the right to win — and all of the national fundraising that could come his way if he decides to support a nomination.
Will the government shutdown?
Earlier on Friday, Congressional leaders missed a self-imposed deadline to come up with a deal to fund the government until Dec. 11. Without a deal in place before the end of the month, the government will shut down — in the middle of a global pandemic and little more than a month before Election Day.
A shutdown could have a cumulative effect: imperiling a fragile economy and extending economic woes beyond Election Day, as both parties hunker down and blame one another.
The consuming nature of an opening of a Supreme Court seat, combined with a presidential election, could further paralyze any potential budget deal. Congress already punted another week to make a decision, so what’s one more?
What does this mean for November?
In normal times, the presidential campaign would pause, if for no other reason than out of respect for Ginsburg’s storied legacy. But during the coronavirus pandemic, the candidates' ability to campaign is already hampered. True, Trump was in Minnesota holding a campaign rally Friday when news of Ginsburg’s passing broke, but the president will likely now return to Washington to hammer out what happens next.
For his part, Biden wouldn’t mind a race that has paused. He leads in national polling by a healthy margin and is tied or ahead in every swing state. Trump is running out of days to turn things around.
That said, every day the news cycle is focused on coronavirus is a bad day for Trump politically. Ginsburg’s death and the future of the Supreme Court offer something different — a respite from his shortcomings during the pandemic.
There is also this matter: vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would oversee any nomination. With her on the committee — and off the campaign trail — Biden loses a critical ally in the field as he tries to secure votes in the race for the White House.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.