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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall 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 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.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal Gabbard cites ‘concerns’ about ‘vagueness’ of Green New Deal MORE (W.Va.) and 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.), 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 GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes Drug pricing fight centers on insulin MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as well as GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOn The Money: Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump emergency declaration | Banks made billion in extra profits thanks to GOP tax law | IRS analyst charged with leaking Cohen's financial records Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration GOP Sen. Collins says she'll back resolution to block Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times 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.