Trump, White House start outreach to key Supreme Court votes
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE and White House staffers have started reaching out to key senators viewed as potential swing votes ahead of a high-stakes fight to install a new Supreme Court justice.

Trump met at the White House on Thursday with Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Obama honors 'American statesman' Richard Lugar Former GOP senator Richard Lugar dies at 87 MORE (Ind.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats MORE (W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE (N.D.), who are all running for reelection this year in states Trump won in 2016.

The president also met with several crucial GOP senators who will be key to confirming a nominee to fill the forthcoming court vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy's decision to retire, which is effective at the end of July.

"I had a good conversation with the president on a range of issues, including the Supreme Court vacancy ... When the president presents the Senate with his choice for the Supreme Court, I will thoroughly review the record and qualifications of that nominee," Donnelly said in a statement Thursday.

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Manchin said in a tweet that he and Trump had a "productive conversation about how we can work together to move [West Virginia] and our county forward." 

 
Heitkamp said in a statement on Thursday night that she and Trump had a "solid discussion" about the Supreme Court when they met.
 
“I stressed the importance of nominating someone to the Supreme Court who is pragmatic, fair, compassionate, committed to justice, and above politics — traits that match Justice Kennedy and which I know are important to North Dakotans. I told the president that he has a chance to unite the country by nominating a true non-ideological jurist," Heitkamp said
 
Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly all voted for Trump's first Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch, last year.
 
Trump lashed out at Heitkamp during a rally in North Dakota this week, predicting she wouldn't support his eventual nominee to replace Kennedy even though she supported his first Supreme Court pick.
 
Heitkamp appeared to reference Trump's remarks in her statement Thursday, saying "political speeches are just that." 

"But the next day, I’m ready to get to work. As I said, if the president wants to meet with me, I’m ready to participate and advocate for North Dakota. And that’s exactly what happened today,” she added. 
 
In addition to red-state Democrats, Trump began meeting with crucial GOP senators on Thursday. 
 
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a tweet that Trump met with Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump-Pelosi fight threatens drug pricing talks Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Bipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as well as GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Overnight Energy: Park Service plans to pay full-time staff through entrance fees | Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax | Interior chief takes heat for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change Democrats grill Trump Interior chief for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change MORE (Alaska).
 
Tonight President Trump met with Senators Grassley, Collins, Murkowski, Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy. The President’s team also talked with more than a dozen other Senators today as part of ongoing outreach to get views and advice from both sides of the aisle on this important nomination," Sanders said in a separate statement.
 
The meeting with the president came after White House counsel Don McGahn called Collins on Thursday to discuss the looming court vacancy. Murkowski told NBC News that she also received a call from McGahn.
 
The two senators are considered potential swing votes because they've broken with their party over health care and abortion-related legislation. Kennedy was the fifth vote in a 1992 case upholding Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established a right to abortion.
 
Both senators floated on Thursday the idea that the White House should look beyond its public list of potential nominees that Trump has said he would pick from. 

Collins said that the administration shouldn't "confine" themselves, while Murkowski, while speaking to The Washington Post, questioned "how we got so wedded to that list." 

The outreach comes after Marc Short, the director of legislative affairs, told reporters that White House staff had begun talking on Thursday with key senators in both parties. 
 
"We've been reaching out," he told reporters. "[And] I think we will see a continued White House outreach."
 
--Updated at 9:40 p.m.