Joe Biden on Sunday attacked President Donald Trump and leading Senate Republicans for trying to push through a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The extraordinary televised plea from the Democratic presidential candidate to Republican senators reflected the ferocious manoeuvring that has followed Ginsburg’s death on Friday.
Her death upended a campaign that had, until then, focused on Mr Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s economic collapse and racial unrest that has stoked protests in US cities.
Mr Trump has said he intends within days to name a woman to succeed Ms Ginsburg, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was moving toward the first hearings this week.
Just hours before Mr Biden spoke, a second Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined senator Susan Collins of Maine in opposing efforts to fill Ms Ginsburg’s seat before the next president is elected.
It takes four Republicans to break ranks to keep Mr Trump’s nominee off the supreme court.
Attention quickly focused on senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who voted to convict Mr Trump on one count of impeachment, and senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a former chairman of the judiciary committee.
Mr Biden acknowledged that those republicans and others like them were his target audience when he warned that Mr Trump’s plan was an “abuse of power”.
“Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience,” said Mr Biden, speaking in battleground Pennsylvania. “Let the people speak. Cool the flames that have engulfed our country.”
There was little chance of calm overtaking the historic campaign as early voting progressed and the death toll from the virus reached 200,000 Americans.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the House having “options” she did not name to stall or prevent the Senate from confirming Ms Ginsburg’s successor to the lifetime job.
“We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now,” Ms Pelosi said on ABC’s This Week.
The House has no formal role in the confirmation of Supreme Court justices. But Ms Pelosi would not rule out a new round of impeachment proceedings that might divert the Senate’s attention, though that route seemed unlikely.
Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. If there were a 50-50 tie, it could be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.
Mr Trump has said he is obliged to act as soon as possible and had at least two women in mind for the seat.
Most Republicans agreed on the need for speed and one named a practical reason. The nine-member court, argued senator Ted Cruz of Texas, must be full if called upon to decide the outcome of a disputed presidential election.
But Mr Biden and other Democrats said voters should choose the next president, who should then choose Ms Ginsburg’s successor. Healthcare, abortion rights and religious freedom are on the line, they said.
Mr Biden, who has run on uniting the country after Mr Trump’s divisive tenure and imparting a sense of comfort to despairing Americans, warned against more upheaval.
“The last thing we need is a constitutional crisis that plunges us deeper into the abyss and deeper into the darkness,” he said. He acknowledged that if Mr Trump wins, his choice should be approved.
But he added, “If I win this election, President Trump’s nominee should be withdrawn and as the new president I should be the one to nominate Justice Ginsburg’s successor.”