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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran 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 SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Schumer declines to say whether Trump executive orders are legal: They don't 'do the job' Schumer: Idea that 0 unemployment benefit keeps workers away from jobs 'belittles the American people' MORE (D-N.Y.) said during a tele-town hall with constituents over the recess.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production Overnight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure 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 The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus 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 McCainBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' MORE (Ariz.) battling brain cancer, Republicans’ 51-seat majority is effectively capped at 50 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal 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 GrahamSeveral GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (S.C.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents 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 DurbinWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Durbin blasts Trump's 'country-club fix' on unemployment MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.

Jordan scandal

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanWorld's most trafficked mammal gives Trump new way to hit China on COVID-19 The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence Tucker Carlson calls Fauci a 'fraud' after tense hearing 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 RyanWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey Democratic super PAC quotes Reagan in anti-Trump ad set to air on Fox News: 'Are you better off?' 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 FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism 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 FoxxPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House fails to override Trump veto of bill blocking DeVos student loan rule The Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO CEO Greenwood says US failed for years to heed warnings of coming pandemic; Trump: Fauci won't testify to 'a bunch of Trump haters' 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.”