Trump court decision energizes White House

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President Trump is closing in on choosing a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, setting the stage for a fierce confirmation battle in the Senate. 

Many aides inside the West Wing feel excited about the Supreme Court pick, viewing it as a chance for Trump to score a victory that could energize his beleaguered team.

The president is making his second high court nomination in just two years, something those around him believe could leave a lasting legacy. 

{mosads}Trump is aiming to duplicate the rollout for his first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, who was introduced to the public in an East Room ceremony that aired live on primetime television. “The Apprentice”-host-turned-president built drama and suspense by keeping Gorsuch’s identity under wraps until shortly before he walked onto the podium with his wife.

Administration officials are preparing rollout plans for “several” nominees ahead of Trump’s made-for-TV announcement on Monday night at 9 p.m., according to a person familiar with the process. Officials hope to finalize the plan as late as possible to avoid the possibility of a leak, the person said.

“Another historical day ahead at the @WhiteHouse on Monday at 9:00pmE — when President Trump announces his #SCOTUS nomination from the East Room! #HISTORY,” Trump’s social media director, Dan Scavino, tweeted Friday.

Trump has said he narrowed his short list down to two or three contenders amid an intense lobbying campaign by outside groups seeking to influence his choice. 

One source close to the White House said federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett have risen to the top of Trump’s short list. 

Trump’s choice has been hotly debated within conservative legal circles, since the next justice could tip the ideological balance of the court toward conservatives and make crucial decisions on issues such as abortion, gay rights, voting laws and affirmative action. 

Publicly, Trump has provided few clues about which way he is leaning and other advisers cautioned he could decide to go in an entirely different direction. 

Trump, who traveled to his New Jersey golf club for a long weekend without having made a final decision, said in his weekly address he wants to choose a nominee who “will faithfully interpret the Constitution as written” and that his pick will have “impeccable credentials, great intellect, unbiased judgment, and deep reverence for the laws and Constitution of the United States.”

Trump is expected to spend the weekend mulling over the choice with his team, including during a Friday night dinner with Vice President Pence. 

Right-leaning groups and some GOP senators have raised concerns about Kavanaugh, claiming some of his past decisions indicate he would be insufficiently conservative on the bench. 

Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have each called Trump to express their fears about Kavanaugh, who sits on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and is a veteran of the George W. Bush White House. 

Some GOP senators, including Paul, have urged Trump to nominate Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), but he is not believed to be on the short list. 

Conservatives have criticized Kavanaugh for dissenting in a 2011 ObamaCare case on jurisdictional, rather than ideological, grounds. Paul and other libertarian-leaning figures in the GOP have also taken issue with a 2015 opinion on the U.S. government’s metadata program.

Kavanaugh is said to be the favorite of White House counsel Don McGahn, who is helping lead the selection process.

Barrett has emerged as a favorite of social conservatives who point to her devout Catholicism and trenchant legal writing on issues like abortion. At 46 years old, she could hold influence for a generation and allow Trump to name another woman to the nation’s highest court. 

But selecting Barrett would guarantee an even more explosive confirmation battle in the Senate and could spark a broader culture war between liberals and conservatives in the months leading up to the midterm elections, when Republicans are hoping to keep control of Congress.

Kethledge is also a conservative darling, but the Michigan-based judge does not have the Harvard or Yale pedigree Trump is said to desire in his Supreme Court picks. Barrett also earned her law degree from Notre Dame, not one of the elite Ivy League schools.

Even as fissures among conservatives have grown in the lead-up to Trump’s decision, outside groups predict they will unite for the confirmation fight.  

“I do see what you’re saying happening,” said Tim Chapman, executive director of the conservative group Heritage Action. “But once the nominee is named, I think everybody is going to rally behind that nominee. The right gets this: The stakes are so high on this that is not worth the internal fight afterward.”

The White House and its outside allies plan to hit the ground running almost immediately after the announcement is made. The nominee will likely travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for an initial round of meetings with Senate leadership and committee members, according to the person familiar with the planning. 

Chapman said Heritage Action plans to spend “a very significant part” of its $11.5 million annual budget on holding call-ins and town halls to push for the nominee in red states with Democratic senators facing reelection in the fall. The group is focusing its efforts on West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Indiana. 

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network also plans to spend at least $10 million on advertising and grass-roots activism around the nominee, much of it targeted at red-state Democrats. 

“We think they have a particularly stark choice to make,” said the group’s chief counsel, Carrie Severino. 

Trump previewed that strategy during a campaign-style rally Thursday night in Montana, hitting Democratic Sen. Jon Tester for voting against Gorsuch.

“That’s a hard one to vote against, isn’t it?” Trump said to the crowd of supporters. “Tester opposed many of our amazing judges. And yet, I see Jon Tester saying such nice things about me. I say, yes, but he never votes for me.”

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate and the margin could be even thinner if Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling cancer, cannot return to Washington for a possible confirmation vote in the fall. 

The White House and its outside allies hope to ensure all GOP senators vote for Trump’s nominee and pick off a handful of vulnerable Democrats. 

Liberal groups are planning a multimillion-dollar campaign to foil those plans by targeting GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who both support abortion rights. 

“President Trump has promised to replace Justice Kennedy with someone who would take away the constitutional right to have an abortion altogether,” Faiz Shakir, national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said this week in announcing new ads aimed at the senators. 

“For Senators Collins and Murkowski, who have stood strong against past attempts by politicians to undermine the liberty of women, this is no time to gamble those rights away,” added Shakir.

Tags Donald Trump John McCain Jon Tester Lisa Murkowski Mike Lee Rand Paul Susan Collins Tom Cotton
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