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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate 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 SchumerMake Trump own the shutdown over his ill-advised border wall More than a tantrum McConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner MORE (D-N.Y.) said during a tele-town hall with constituents over the recess.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war Dem lawmaker pledges hearings after CIA briefing on Khashoggi 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 MurkowskiSenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill When is a deal not a deal? When there’s a wildlife refuge to be exploited House funding bill scraps Arctic icebreaker program MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling The Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms Bipartisan senators doubt ruling striking down ObamaCare 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 McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown Arizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat Michelle Obama reflects on 'refreshing' tradition of sharing candy with George W. Bush MORE (Ariz.) battling brain cancer, Republicans’ 51-seat majority is effectively capped at 50 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate Schumer blasts GOP request for immigration 'slush fund' Trump: 'Too early to say' if shutdown will be averted 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 GrahamOcasio-Cortez: By Lindsey Graham's 1999 standard for Clinton, Trump should be impeached Senate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump Former FBI official says Mueller won’t be ‘colored by politics’ in Russia probe MORE (S.C.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — New momentum for privacy legislation | YouTube purges spam videos | Apple plans B Austin campus | Iranian hackers targeted Treasury officials | FEC to let lawmakers use campaign funds for cyber Manchin puts hold on FCC nomination over wireless internet fund delay MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches House passes bipartisan bill aimed at reversing rising maternal mortality rates MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches Schumer gets ready to go on the offensive 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 DurbinVeteran industry lobbyist to leave American Petroleum Institute Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Harris announces support for White House-backed criminal justice bill MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.

Jordan scandal

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJim Jordan predicts there will be no government shutdown Boehner working on memoir: report Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — For Republicans, fight over fetal tissue research comes back to Planned Parenthood | CDC traces contaminated romaine lettuce to California farm | Dems aim to punt vote on ObamaCare taxes 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 — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown Missing: Fiscal sanity in Washington On The Money: Latest on border wall fight | Dems prep for long shutdown | Trump finds himself isolated | Stocks sink ahead of Fed meeting, funding deadline | Trump offers new round of farm aid 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 FlakeArizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Corker dodges on Trump primary question 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.”