Update: Mitt Romney signaled Tuesday that he will support a quick vote on a Supreme Court nominee. Read more here.
Waiting to see if Utah Sen. Mitt Romney will revolt against his party again became less dramatic late Monday when two key Republicans fell in line with leaders, and appeared to give them just enough backing to force a vote before the election on an upcoming nominee by President Donald Trump to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Charles Grassley of Iowa and Colorado’s Cory Gardner decided to support that quick vote, even though four years ago the GOP refused to give Merrick Garland — President Barack Obama’s nominee — a confirmation hearing by arguing that his nomination came too close to the election and the new president should make the appointment.
Romney may reveal his stand on the matter as soon as Tuesday. His office said he will wait at least until the Senate reconvenes that day to make a statement on the issue.
Romney initially was seen as a key because Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate — so at least four Republicans would need to defect to prevent a vote on a Trump nominee before the election. It might take just three defections after the Nov. 3 election if Democrat Mark Kelly wins a special election in Arizona and takes office as soon as Nov. 30.
Two GOP senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — quickly said the next president should fill the vacancy, maintaining an argument Republicans used to block the nomination of Garland before the 2016 election.
So, eyes in Washington turned to three other Republicans seen as possibly joining that pair to block a quick vote: Romney, Gardner and Grassley. However by late Monday, Gardner and Grassley issued statements saying they will support their leaders.
While Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee for president, is conservative and usually votes with the Republican majority, it’s possible he may have trouble with the fairness of proceeding with confirmation of a Republican now after the GOP’s blocking of Garland in 2016.
Romney has been silent on the issue so far.
Jim Dabakis, a former Utah Democratic Party chairman and state senator, tweeted over the weekend that a Romney insider told him the senator is committed not to confirm a nominee until after the inauguration of the next president, and added the hashtag #Mittrevenge.
But Liz Johnson, spokeswoman for Romney, quickly responded online saying, “This is grossly false.”
Some worried conservatives were openly calling for Romney to stick with other Republican senators.
“Romney insists that his highest duty is not to party but to the Constitution. That is a worthy sentiment, and is exactly why the Utah senator should vote to confirm a qualified candidate. That’s because it is what the Constitution calls for,” or holding votes on nominees, wrote Davis Marcus, the New York correspondent for The Federalist, a conservative magazine.
The conservative Judicial Crisis Network also announced Monday a $2.2 million TV ad blitz to support Trump’s soon-to-be-named Supreme Court pick that will target key states, including Utah, Iowa and Colorado.
Grassley had been seen as someone who might defect because he is a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and argued strongly for the Republicans' 2016 position that a Supreme Court vacancy should not be filled in an election year.
In a call with Iowa reporters in July, Grassley said if Trump nominated a replacement before the election, he would not recommend holding a hearing on that candidate. He made that comment when Ginsburg, a four-time cancer survivor, announced she was again undergoing chemotherapy.
But on Monday, he said, “Once the hearings are underway, it’s my responsibility to evaluate the nominee on the merits, just as I always have. The Constitution gives the Senate that authority, and the American people’s voices in the most recent election couldn’t be clearer.”
Gardner was also seen as a possible defector because he is in a tight reelection race, and supporting a quick vote may offend some voters he needs to win. But he issued a statement late Monday supporting moving forward, and vowing to vote for a qualified nominee.
Romney has weathered the barbs of Trump on multiple occasions, including earlier this month when the president said at a Pennsylvania political rally that Romney is “our worst senator,” and “couldn’t be elected dogcatcher in Utah right now.”
A quote by Trump in April about Romney might also come back to haunt him now with the long-shot chance that he may need the senator to allow a vote on his upcoming nominee.
“I’m not a fan of Mitt Romney,” Trump said during a news conference then. “I don’t really want his advice.”
Editor’s note: 6:03 p.m. This story was updated to reflect the announcements by Charles Grassley and Cory Gardner that they would support a quick vote on a nominee.