This week: Senate braces for Supreme Court scramble
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE is set to kick off an election-year fight to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

After more than a week of public deliberating, Trump is scheduled to announce his pick for the crucial court seat on Monday at 9 p.m. from the White House.

Trump has reportedly narrowed his list of roughly two dozen potential nominees down to four names: Amy Coney Barrett, Thomas Hardiman, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge.

Trump’s decision went down to the 11th hour, with the president telling reporters early Sunday evening that he was still undecided on who he would ultimately select.

"I'm getting very close to making a final decision,” he said. "I'll probably be decided tonight or tomorrow sometime by 12 o'clock.”

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Trump’s announcement will start a months-long race to replace Kennedy, considered the court’s pivotal swing vote on hot-button issues including abortion and same-sex marriage.

Top Republicans and the administration want Kennedy’s successor in place before the Supreme Court begins its new term in October.

The battle in the Senate is expected to be the most expensive confirmation fight in history, with outside groups on both sides pouring in millions to try to sway swing votes that could make or break if Trump’s nominee is confirmed.

Because Republicans got rid of the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominees last year, Democrats don’t have the ability to block Trump’s nominee on their own.

They’re already facing a mountain of pressure from outside groups to use the chamber’s procedural rulebook to jam up the Senate. While that would include limiting the ability for committees to meet or blocking legislation in protest, it couldn’t ultimately block Republicans from confirming Trump’s nominees.

Democrats have, so far, held back from pledging to play procedural hardball.

"I’m willing to entertain using any of the procedural tools available at the appropriate time, but I think if we put all of our eggs in that basket, we’ll have less of a chance to focus on the substantive issues,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) said during a tele-town hall with constituents over the recess.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' MORE (D-Conn.), speaking to reporters before the recess, noted that Republican can bring the nomination to the Senate floor “whenever they want.”

“Our focus has to be on two or three Republicans to cross over and do the right thing for our country. As far as I understand the rules don’t accrue to our favor,” he said.

GOP Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: Palin unpopular in Alaska following jab at Murkowski Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Ex-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Susan Collins and the mob mentality MORE (Maine) are viewed as the two likeliest Republican senators to vote against a Supreme Court nominee.

Republicans have no room for error if they can’t win Democratic support. With GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE (Ariz.) battling brain cancer, Republicans’ 51-seat majority is effectively capped at 50 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Schumer: Fight for Senate is 'neck and neck' Nikki Haley powerfully rebuts Trump MORE (R-Ky.) told Trump that Kethledge and Hardiman are the two possible Supreme Court nominees who are most likely to be approved by the Senate, Republican officials told The New York Times.

Sources told the Times that McConnell, while not advocating for a particular nominee, warned that Democrats could use Kavanaugh’s long paper trail spawned by more than a decade on the court to try to delay him until October. Meanwhile, Collins and Murkowski, McConnell reportedly warned, likely wouldn’t support Barrett, who has emerged as the favorite of social conservatives.

A slate of red- and purple-state Democrats are already facing a political minefield as they weigh the Supreme Court fight. Republicans and their allied outside groups are expected to apply a mountain of pressure to get the Democrats running for reelection in states easily won by Trump to support the nominee.

"Red-state Democrats are going to have a very hard decision, and I hope that every Republican will rally behind these picks because they’re all outstanding," GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Trump calls Saudi explanation for journalist's death credible, arrests 'good first step' MORE (S.C.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Blankenship endorses ex-W.Va. GOP Senate rival, calls him 'lying' drug lobbyist Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump seizes on immigrant 'caravan' for midterms | WHCA criticizes Trump for praising lawmaker who assaulted reporter | Trump takes harder line on Saudis MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Donnelly parodies 'Veep' in new campaign ad Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B MORE (Ind.) voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, last year.

But liberal activists are demanding that Schumer keep his caucus united in the Supreme Court battle by focusing on health care and Roe v. Wade. Democrats worry Kennedy’s replacement will allow the 1973 ruling, which legalized the right to an abortion, to be curbed or overturned.

But Democratic leadership, as well as rank-and-file moderates, are warning that when it comes to a vote as historic as a Supreme Court nominee, they can’t dictate how an individual member votes.

“That’s never been the case. I’ve been around here a few years and when it comes to something of this historic importance members make up their own minds,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight GOP senators: Mnuchin should not go to Saudi Arabia MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.

Jordan scandal

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanNellie Ohr exercises spousal privilege in meeting with House panels Meadows calls on Rosenstein to resign 'immediately' Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel MORE (R-Ohio) is coming back from Congress’s July 4th recess amid allegations he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse by former sports physician Richard Strauss during his time serving as the assistant coach of the Ohio State University wrestling team

Seven former wrestlers have come forward accusing Jordan, one of the leading voices of the House Freedom Caucus, of knowing abuse was taking place during his tenure.

Jordan — who has floated running for Speaker of the House — had adamantly denied the allegations, telling Fox News “no one ever reported any abuse to me.”

“Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse or reported abuse,” he told Fox News’s Bret Baier.

Jordan, noting that there is an investigation ongoing, added that he thought he was speaking with investigators this week.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Atheist group argues in court for prayer rights on House floor Small-dollar donations explode in the Trump era MORE (R-Wis.) is awaiting the results of the university’s investigation before taking action.

“The university has rightfully initiated a full investigation into the matter. The Speaker will await the findings of that inquiry,” Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said in a statement.

Strzok hearing

Two powerful House committees are barreling toward a showdown with an agent at the center of the GOP's case for political bias within the FBI.

The House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have announced a public hearing for Thursday with counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok.

Strzok has been a target for House Republicans ever since a series of text messages critical of Trump that he sent during the 2016 presidential race became public.

The two House committees issued a subpoena last week for Strzok to appear in the hearing, which comes after he was grilled for 11 hours during a closed-door session late last month.

Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer, initially indicated last week that his client might not comply with the subpoena, arguing lawmakers selectively leaked portions of his closed-door testimony.

"My client will testify soon, somewhere, sometime,"  he told CNN's Chris Cuomo last week. "We just got this subpoena today, so I don't know whether or not we are going to be testifying next  … in front of these two particular House subcommittees."

But he added in a statement to USA Today late last week that Strzok has agreed to testify.

“More than anyone, Special Agent Strzok wants to testify publicly and attempt to have the unfiltered truth be heard. Members of Congress have made this as difficult as possible--first demanding a secretive hearing and then selectively leaking and misrepresenting his words--but Pete will continue to play by the rules and act with integrity,” Goelman said in a statement.

Nominations

The Senate is set to take up three of Trump’s nominees this week on the Senate floor.

Senators will turn first to Mark Bennett’s nomination to be a judge on the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

McConnell is moving forward with the circuit judge nomination despite a pledge from GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance MORE (Ariz.) to vote against any appeals court nominees until the Senate votes on legislation reining in Trump on tariffs.

With McCain absent and Flake voting “no,” the GOP senator’s tactic effectively stalls any controversial court nominee from clearing the Senate.

But Bennett was cleared through the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support, meaning he is expected to be able to be confirmed by the Senate without Flake’s support.

After Bennett, the Senate will move to Brian Benczkowski’s nomination to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division and Paul Ney to be general counsel for the Department of Defense.

Democrats have come out in opposition to Benczkowski because of his work for Alfa Bank, a Russian bank that has faced scrutiny in the federal investigation into 2016 election meddling.

Critics argue the nomination is an attack on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election and potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

“At a time when we need the DOJ Criminal Division to help uncover, prevent, and deter Russian interference in our democracy, Mr. Benczkowski is simply not the right person to lead that effort,” Durbin said in a tweet over the weekend.

Deregulation

The House is slated to vote on legislation aimed at increasing transparency on the costs of unfunded federal mandates.

The Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act, introduced by Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxA 2 billion challenge: Transforming US grant reporting Trump calls North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’ Women poised to take charge in Dem majority MORE (R-N.C.), would require agencies to propose regulatory alternatives to rules that cost over $100 million. Heads of agencies are also given the option to explain why a less expensive alternative wasn’t used when publishing the final rule.

“Six years of work have gone into advancing this legislation, and there should be no further delay to its passage. Times are tight for families across this country,” Foxx said.

“Millions of Americans remain unemployed, and many more still rely on small businesses and local governments for jobs, health care, public safety, and education. Washington should think carefully before it decrees regulation that could siphon from the limited dollars cities and small businesses use to keep people employed and localities functioning.”