WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump on Saturday said he would nominate a woman to succeed the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The President's desire to "move quickly" on the process, despite Democrats' vehement opposition, is likely to dominate the campaigns - alongside other hot-button issues such as the coronavirus and America's ongoing racial reckoning - ahead of the Nov 3 presidential election.
"I think it's going to move quickly actually," Mr Trump told reporters outside the White House on Saturday, adding that he thought his choice would be made this week.
Addressing a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, later that day, he took an impromptu poll from the crowd, asking them to cheer for either a woman or a man to be his pick.
The crowd cheered considerably louder for the former.
"That's a very accurate poll because that's the way I feel. It will be a woman. A very talented, very brilliant woman, who I haven't chosen yet - but we have numerous women on the list."
He complimented two appeals court judges said to be on his shortlist: Ms Amy Coney Barrett and Ms Barbara Lagoa.
Ms Ginsburg, 87, immensely popular among Democrats, died on Friday after a long battle with cancer.
Her death, just weeks before the presidential election, offers Republicans a chance to lock in a conservative majority for decades to come, on a court where justices are appointed for life.
The stakes are high as the decision could affect such weighty issues as abortion, healthcare, gun control and gay rights.
They are pushed even higher in a bitter election year when the justices can play a decisive role in legal wrangling over a contested result - such as when they ruled in Mr George W. Bush's favour to end the 2000 election debacle.
Mr Trump has already named two justices during his term as president - Mr Brett Kavanaugh and Mr Neil Gorsuch - giving conservatives a 5-4 majority before Ms Ginsburg's death, though that does not guarantee rulings in Mr Trump's favour.
Mr Trump, who is lagging in the polls behind Democratic opponent Joe Biden, has another powerful incentive to move ahead: Providing a jolt of enthusiasm among his anti-abortion and evangelical supporters.
But, with almost 45 days to go before the election and early voting already begun in some states, galvanised Democrats are pushing back furiously.
Mr Biden said on Friday that "the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider".
While Democrats' options seem limited, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told party members on Saturday that if Republicans press ahead, then "nothing is off the table", according to media reports.
"This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president," Mr Schumer said on Friday, carefully echoing the words of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2016, when he blocked Obama nominee Merrick Garland.
Republicans in theory have the Senate votes to push through a Trump nominee, but could be blocked by only a handful of defections.
Republican Senator Susan Collins became the first to break ranks when she announced on Saturday that she would not support a vote on any Trump nominee before the election.
The Maine lawmaker is among a handful of moderate Republican senators - including Ms Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - who have already expressed doubts about a rushed vote.
"I totally disagree with her," Mr Trump said of Ms Collins' stance, referring to his 2016 election in adding that "we have an obligation as the winners to pick who we want".
One prominent Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will oversee the confirmation hearings, is none other than Senator Kamala Harris, Mr Biden's running mate.
Mr Trump has already named scores of conservatives as federal judges, and Democrats fear a deep and lasting shift in the balance at the Supreme Court.
Analysts predicted that Democrats would do their best to drag out the process, while fanning public outrage.
"Their option is to build a groundswell... to try to convince at least four Republican senators to vote 'no' on whoever the President puts forward," Ms Amy Howe, co-founder of a Supreme Court blog, said on CNN.