President Trump on Friday hailed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as “an amazing woman who led an amazing life,” learning of her death just as he stepped off the stage at a campaign rally in Minnesota.
"She just died? Wow. I didn't know that. You’re telling me know for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say?” Trump told reporters as “Tiny Dancer” blared in the background. “She was an amazing woman. Whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life."
“I’m saddened to hear that,” he added.
The president did not respond to shouted questions about whether he plans to put forward a nominee before the election, though his allies expect him to do so.
In a written statement that he later tweeted, Trump called Ginsburg a “titan of the law” and offered prayers for the late justice’s family.
“Renowned for her brilliant mind and her powerful dissents at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward one’s colleagues or different points of view,” the statement read. “Her opinions, including well-known decisions regarding the legal equality of women and the disabled, have inspired all Americans, and generations of great legal minds.”
The president spoke for nearly 90 minutes in Bemidji, Minn., unaware that Ginsburg had died. He took the stage a short time before news of her death broke.
As Trump was still on stage speaking to supporters at a campaign rally, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows offered condolences to Ginsburg’s family, and the flag above the White House was lowered to half staff.
“Joining the whole nation tonight in mourning the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a trailblazer, a dedicated public servant, and an inspiration to so many,” Meadows tweeted. “My prayers are with her family and friends.”
Ginsburg’s death will set off an explosive battle in the Senate over whether to confirm a replacement so close to Election Day.
Republicans in 2016 did not give a hearing to then-President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, arguing it was an election year and voters should have a say in determining the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement.
Scalia died in February 2016. Ginsburg’s death comes less than 50 days before the election.
Still, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have made clear they would move to fill a vacancy even in an election year.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell said in a statement on Friday.
Ginsburg reportedly said in the days before she died that her “most fervent wish” was for the next president to choose her replacement.
Trump in 2016 garnered significant support among voters who said the Supreme Court was their top issue, and Ginsburg’s death is likely to create a renewed sense of urgency among conservatives who value judicial appointments.
Trump has already nominated two justices to the bench, first Neil Gorsuch and later Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation was a bruising battle during which the nominee was accused of sexual assault.
A person familiar with the discussions said they expected Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Judge Amul Thapar, both of whom were considered as replacements for former Justice Anthony Kennedy, are considered front-runners to replace Ginsburg. They cautioned that the decision was fluid, and that neither Kavanaugh nor Gorsuch were on Trump’s first list of potential nominees.
The news came just over a week after Trump unveiled his updated list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court, which includes three GOP senators, a handful of current and former Trump administration officials and Trump appointees to the lower federal courts.