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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ 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 SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE (D-N.Y.) said during a tele-town hall with constituents over the recess.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support House passes bill to end US support for Saudi war in Yemen This week: Border deal remains elusive as shutdown looms 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 MurkowskiOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTexas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 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 McCainMellman: Where are good faith and integrity? GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech MORE (Ariz.) battling brain cancer, Republicans’ 51-seat majority is effectively capped at 50 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Sanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into 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 GrahamCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Warren: Officials have duty ‘to invoke 25th amendment’ if they think Trump is unfit MORE (S.C.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks 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 DurbinSanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump praises law enforcement response to shooting at Illinois business MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.

Jordan scandal

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration Rod Rosenstein’s final insult to Congress: Farewell time for reporters but not testimony House conservatives blast border deal, push Trump to use executive power 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 RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden 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 suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger 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 FoxxBlack Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority A 2 billion challenge: Transforming US grant reporting Trump calls North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’ 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.”