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U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, at an event in Aurora on July 12, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Cory Gardner said Monday that if President Donald Trump puts forward a “qualified” nominee to replace the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he will vote to confirm that person.

“When a President exercises constitutional authority to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court vacancy, the Senate must decide how to best fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent,” the Republican U.S. senator from Colorado said in a written statement. “Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm.”

Gardner’s statement did not specifically address if he supports moving to confirm a nominee before the Nov. 3 election, though it implies that he would be OK doing so.

That’s despite the fact that in 2016, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Gardner said the Senate should put off confirming judges when a presidential election was so near. “I think we’re too close to the election,” Gardner said that year. “The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.” 

A spokeswoman for his Senate office did not immediately return a message seeking additional information. Gardner’s statement did not address why his position has changed from four years ago.

Gardner is facing a difficult reelection bid this year and has been the subject of national speculation over how he would handle replacing Ginsburg, who died on Friday at age 87.

Democrats spent the weekend pressuring Gardner to hold off on supporting a nominee from Trump to fill Ginsburg’s seat until after the Nov. 3 election is decided. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is running to unseat Gardner, said that the incumbent must wait to back a Supreme Court selection.

“We need to make sure that Sen. Gardner doesn’t break his word and cave to Donald Trump, as he’s done time and time again,” Hickenlooper said in a written statement to The Colorado Sun on Monday.

MORE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death pours intensity on, could reshape Colorado’s hotly contested Senate race

Gardner said on Saturday that it was too soon to discuss filling Ginsburg’s seat on the court and that it was still a time to mourn. But a growing number of GOP senators have come out in support of choosing a replacement for Ginsburg before Election Day.

Gardner has overwhelmingly supported Trump’s judicial nominees and voted to confirm two of the judges said to be on the president’s short list, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and Barbara Lagoa, a judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Trump nodded to that fact when asked Monday during an interview with Fox News about how the prospect of quickly filling Ginsburg’s seat could hurt vulnerable senators, like Gardner, up for reelection this year.

The president called Gardner “very loyal.”

A national Morning Consult poll conducted over the weekend among 2,000 registered voters shows that Ginsburg’s death has made the Supreme Court a main issue in the 2020 election.

Before her death, 47% of voters said the court was important in deciding whom to vote for in November. After Ginsburg died, 56% said it was important.

Trump said on Monday that he expects to announce his pick for the Supreme Court by week’s end, before Ginsburg is buried.

Conversations in the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office are increasingly focused on two finalists: Barrett, who was at the White House on Monday, and Lagoa, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations. Trump himself confirmed they were among the top contenders.

President Donald J. Trump speaks with reporters outside the South Portico entrance of the White House Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, before boarding Marine One to begin his trip to Fayetteville, N.C. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

McConnell vowed on Monday to have a vote “this year” on Trump’s nominee. With just over a month before the election, he said the Senate has “more than sufficient time.”

Announcing a nominee on Friday or Saturday would leave less than 40 days for the Senate to hold a confirmation vote before the election. No nominee has won confirmation that quickly since Sandra Day O’Connor — with no opposition from either party — became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981.

Four Republicans could halt a quick confirmation and Trump criticized Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for opposing a vote before elections. The president warned they would be “very badly hurt” by voters.

Gardner’s preemptive support for a qualified nominee likely means the GOP has enough votes to push a confirmation through.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....