Joe Biden slammed President Donald Trump and leading Senate Republicans on Sunday for trying to ram through a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, urging more senators to stand with a pair of GOP colleagues who oppose the move.
The extraordinary televised plea from the Democratic presidential candidate to Republican senators reflected the ferocious manoeuvering that has followed Ginsburg's death aged 87 on Friday.
Her passing upended a campaign that had, until then, focused on Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation's economic collapse and racial unrest that has stoked protests in US cities.
Just hours before Biden spoke, a second Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Senator Susan Collins of Maine in opposing efforts to fill Ginsburg's seat before the next president is elected.
It takes four Republicans to break ranks to keep Trump's nominee off the court. Attention quickly focused on Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who voted to convict Trump on one count of impeachment, and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Biden acknowledged that those Republicans and others like them were his target audience when he warned that Trump's plan was an “abuse of power.”
“Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience,” said Biden, speaking in battleground Pennsylvania. "Let the people speak. Cool the flames that have engulfed our country.”
Trump has promised to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a woman and to do so quickly.
He announced his intentions at a rally in North Carolina amid debate between Republicans and Democrats over whether the seat should be filled so close to an election.
At the rally, Trump asked a crowd what they thought, concluding the choice for the court would be "a very talented, very brilliant woman."
His supporters chanted "fill that seat" during the rally, which took place a day after Justice Ginsburg died.
“We win an election and those are the consequences,” said Trump, who then seemed to say that he would accept a vote on his nominee after the election.
"We have a lot of time. We have plenty of time. We're talking about January 20th."
Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appeals court judge beloved among conservatives, has been named as an early favourite by US media.
Republicans blocked confirmation hearings for Barack Obama's nominee to the court in 2016, eight months before a presidential election. Now they say that as long as they control the Senate, Trump's nominee should get a vote, a move that many Democrats have called hypocritical.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the average number of days it takes to confirm a justice is 69, which would be after the election. But some justices are confirmed more quickly.
Ginsburg, who was the leader of the court's liberal bloc, was a champion of women's rights and fought discrimination.