FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A day after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, President Donald Trump relished the opportunity to promise his supporters that he would fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, a move designed to energize his voters just weeks before the election.
In his first expanded remarks about the Supreme Court, Trump told thousands of supporters at a campaign rally Saturday that he has a “moral duty” to replace Ginsburg, and that his pick will be a woman.
“So Article 2 of our Constitution says the president shall nominate justices of the Supreme Court,” he said. “I don't think it can be any more clear ... I don't think so. I don't think so.”
“Fill that seat!” the crowd chanted.
“That’s what we're going to do. We're going to fill the seat,” he responded to cheers.
Trump’s allies said they hoped he would shift his focus from the coronavirus outbreak to the Supreme Court to invigorate Republicans by showing them what’s at stake in the election. The president delivered Saturday, signaling that he plans to campaign on the issue for the next six weeks, revising a strategy he employed in 2016.
Trump noted presidents, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, had nominated justices to the Supreme Court 29 times in an election year, saying he has plenty of time before his term ends Jan. 20.
“We won an election and those are the consequences,” Trump said. “You know, it's called fill that seat and that's what we're doing.”
In 2016, the Republican-led Senate refused to hold a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee for a vacancy, Merrick Garland, claiming it was because it was an election year. This time around, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to hold a vote on Trump’s nominee, though he hasn’t specified timing.
The crowd also noted Ginsburg’s death. Before Trump flew from Washington, several thousand attendees at the Fayetteville Regional Airport were asked to include the late Supreme Court Justice and her family in pre-rally prayer. There was little social distancing or masks.
During the rally, without saying her full name, Trump bashed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who said earlier in the day that the Senate should wait to vote on a nominee until after the election so that the winner of the election can choose the selection.
"We have some senators — you know, oh forget it," he said. "I won't say it. Susan. I won't say it. Susan.”
And during the event, when Trump announced he would nominate a woman next week, he took two "very scientific" polls, as he described them jokingly, on whether he should pick a woman or man. The crowd cheered louder for a woman.
"That's a very accurate poll because that's the way I feel," he said. “It will be a woman, a very talented woman,” he assured. The crowd cheered.
He is considering Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa, now a federal appeals court judge who is Cuban American. Barrett is considered the leading contender because of her conservative credentials, Trump’s interest in picking a woman and the fact that she’s already been interviewed, according to five people familiar with the White House process.
With just over six weeks before the election, Trump is lagging behind Biden in both national and state polls. His standing has fallen in many key states, such as Ohio and Iowa, and even in traditionally red states, such as Arizona and Georgia, in both public and campaign polls.
Trump also touched on other topics in the nearly two-hour event. At times, he reverted back to his standard stump speech, careening from one topic to another, from the video-sharing app TikTok to his wall on the border with Mexico to trade deals to funding the military. Yet the Supreme Court vacancy loomed large.
“But no one cares about that anymore, all they care about is fill that seat,” he said.
Trump attacked Democrat Joe Biden, calling him the “worst candidate,” “the dumbest of all candidates,” and the “worst candidate in the history of presidential politics.”
"If I lose to him, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. "I’ll never speak to you again. You’ll never see me again. How do you lose?"
He blasted Biden on his mental acuity, his stance on China and his record on restoring the economy when he served as Barack Obama’s vice president. He also accused Biden’s son Hunter of using his father’s name to earn millions in China, though he offered no evidence of his claim.
“Where is Hunter? What the hell ever happened?” he asked. “He took the money and he ran I think. Where is Hunter? He took the money, he went to China and he took $1.5 billion and he had no experience. He didn’t have a job until this guy became vice president.”
And he mocked Biden for failing to release a list of possible Supreme Court nominees as he did last when he updated a previous list.
“We're asking for Biden's list,” he said. “He can't give it.”
Trump again heaped praise on his administration for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but on Saturday he said little about the actual pandemic. “We're rounding the turn,” he said. “We're rounded the corner of the pandemic.”
Trump allies have pushed the president to focus his message on the economy and law and order in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality, but he has generally resisted, though he did mention those issues Saturday.
“We built the greatest economy in the history of the world and now we're doing it again and we're doing it very rapidly,” he said.
And he repeated his nearly daily assault on voting-by-mail, saying without evidence that the practice will lead to massive election fraud.
“We're counting on the federal court system to make it so that we can actually have an evening where we know who wins, OK,” he said. “Not where the votes are going to be counted a week later, two weeks later.”
But on Saturday, it was clear that he would use the Supreme Court as a new talking point in the final weeks of the election. His campaign even began to raise money off the issue.
“Pres. Trump will fill the Supreme Court vacancy with a conservative justice. 800%-MATCH live to Make America Great Again! Claim your match NOW.”
Maria Carrasco contributed to this report.