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The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Expensive and brutal: Inside the Supreme Court fight ahead

 

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"One of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history" occurred on Thursday in Annapolis, Md., about an hour's drive from Washington, D.C. ... A gunman, who was later apprehended and charged with murder, killed at least five people and injured several others at The Capital newspaper ... Police also found an explosive device. The shooter had a long-running legal feud with the newspaper. The White House reacted: 

Rumors are swirling. Money is flying. Court watchers are dusting off rule books in search of obscure procedures and wild theories are being thrown about.

It's been less than 48 hours since Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement and Washington has already switched into battle mode, with the ideological leaning of the high court hanging in the balance.

Who is being considered?

President Trump has said he will pick someone off the list of 25 people the White House has published online, and his spokeswoman repeated that idea on Thursday.

The Washington Post has whittled that list down to seven front-runners. The list is heavy on George W. Bush appointees. One name that the media is buzzing about: Brett Kavanaugh, a court of appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit and former staff secretary in the Bush White House.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is also said to be on the rise, although a current judge seems more likely.

There's also the possibility that Trump goes off-script. During the campaign, Trump floated his older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a former appeals court judge, as a potential nominee.

The Associated Press reports that Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, is taking a leave of absence to serve as an outside adviser to the White House selection process.

The Hill: Trump, White House start outreach to key Supreme Court votes.

When will we know who the candidate is?

The calendar matters, especially in an election year.

For the past three confirmed nominees, the average time from nomination to confirmation has been 73 days.

The New York Times: How long does it take to confirm a Supreme Court nominee?

A Republican plugged into the process tells us that the administration should work to ensure that the confirmation vote does not take place too close to Election Day. The source circled the third week in September as the sweet spot.

Walking that back 73 days brings us to July 10. That's less than two weeks away and the president is scheduled to leave on a long overseas trip that day, so we might know very soon.

Can Democrats do anything to block the confirmation?

It doesn't look like it, although progressives are saying they'll hold Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) responsible if the nominee gets through.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) rules prevent a Democratic filibuster. The nominee will need a simple majority. There are 51 Republicans in the Senate and Vice President Pence will be around to break a tie. On top of that, some red-state Democrats up for reelection might find it in their interests to join Republicans, as three did last year.

On Wednesday and Thursday, there was hope among liberals that Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a vocal Trump critic, might block the president's nominee on the Judiciary Committee as a way to protest Trump's tariffs policy. Flake ended that speculation.

The attention has shifted now to Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), both of whom support abortion rights.

The Hill: Collins, Murkowski to play pivotal role in Supreme Court abortion battle.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who has called McConnell a hypocrite for refusing to allow former President Obama's Supreme Court nominee a vote during an election year, gets at the bottom line for Democrats:

 

The politics

This is expected to be the most expensive Supreme Court fight in history. Conservative groups have already pledged millions to pressure lawmakers, and liberal groups are certain to follow.

Red-state Senate Democrats up for reelection in states Trump carried in 2016 - there are 10 of them - will be under enormous pressure. Three of these - Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) - voted for Trump's first pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Heitkamp and Donnelly met with Trump last night and said they'd consider the qualifications of his nominee. The White House said the president's team also met with more than a dozen other senators as part of its outreach efforts "to get views and advice from both sides of the aisle."

The Hill: Supreme Court vacancy throws Senate battle into chaos.

Jonathan Turley: Justice Kennedy symbolizes our struggle to find common ground.

As far as the stakes - much of the focus has been on whether the Supreme Court could reverse Roe v. Wade, although Chief Justice John Roberts has enormous respect for legal precedent.

The Associated Press: A more conservative court may weaken, rather than overturn, abortion rights.

The Washington Post: Abortion foes plan a cautious approach to notion of overturning Roe.

But other issues will come up that are specific to Trump's eventual choice for the lifetime appointment. Liberals see an opening here. Speaking on MSNBC, Democratic strategist and former Supreme Court clerk Ron Klain called on Democrats to view former Judge Robert Bork's nomination as a model. Many Republicans believe Bork's record was distorted during the confirmation process, and that Democrats sunk his nomination based on ideological differences, not qualifications.

What is Trump looking for? According to his aides, "tremendous intellect, judicial temperament and impeccable qualifications."

What are opponents looking for? Any vulnerability that might give even a few GOP senators serious pause.

One final note - a word used by pundits and even a pollster to describe the national mood is "unraveling." It's a bookend with "chaos," and was used this week by people who are alarmed at the idea of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. The debate is just three days old. Lots more to come.

LEADING THE DAY

INVESTIGATIONS: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray faced a grilling from House Republicans on Thursday amid an escalating dispute between the Justice Department and Trump's allies on Capitol Hill.

The Hill's Katie Bo Williams, Olivia Beavers and Morgan Chalfant have the highlights here. It was a gripping hearing and full of explosive exchanges between representatives of two branches of government, men who don't like each other. https://bit.ly/2tJ6gAY

A few takeaways -

House conservatives are furious, believing the DOJ is stonewalling their requests for documents on the origins of the election year investigation into Trump's campaign.

During the hearing, the House passed a resolution that effectively serves as a warning shot to the FBI and DOJ to turn over everything that has been requested or lawmakers will take more dramatic steps.

Rosenstein and Wray say they've gone out of their way to comply with congressional demands and defended the veracity of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate sent a joint letter to Wray and Rosenstein, encouraging them to withstand the pressure from House Republicans.

"As the attacks on the Special Counsel intensify, it is imperative that you withstand pressure on DOJ and FBI to violate established procedures and norms. Your role in preserving the integrity of the Special Counsel's investigation and, most importantly, our justice system has become even more vital."

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) vented his frustration over the Mueller probe and demanded it be brought to a swift conclusion:

"There's an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied. I think right now all of us are being denied. Whatever you've got, finish it the hell up, because this country is being torn apart." - Gowdy

More on the investigations front ... a former aide to Roger Stone has been subpoenaed in the Russia investigation (The New York Times) ... Paul Manafort received a $10 million loan from a Russian oligarch (Politico).

And finally, Pence had a "constructive conversation" with Ecuador's President Lenín Moreno about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, an administration official says. Assange's continued status holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London has been in question. At one point Assange said he wanted to be extradited to the U.S.

 

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CAMPAIGNS AND POLITICS: Washington is still trying to make sense out of Rep. Joseph Crowley's (D-N.Y.) primary defeat at the hands of 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist.

Some believe the party is drifting to the left, but The Hill's Amie Parnes reports today on the widening fissure between grass-roots liberals and establishment Democrats.

The Hill: Anti-establishment fervor grips Democrats.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said not to read too much into Crowley's loss, that it is specific to his district and not indicative of a larger progressive movement. Ocasio-Cortez disagrees.

Meanwhile, membership in the Democratic Socialist Party has spiked.

Republicans say it's evidence of a lurch to the left by Democrats, where impeaching Trump and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement is quickly becoming mainstream.

 

More from the campaign trail ... North Carolina GOP seeks to remake state Constitution (The Hill) ... Obama will headline a fundraiser for House Democrats today in the Bay Area with Pelosi ... GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne (Ala.) is preparing to challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) (The Hill) ... Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) aims to recruit a new generation of Democratic leaders (The Hill).

 

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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

 WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Trump has been eyeing his options this summer for his third White House chief of staff, and a summit takes shape between Trump and Putin in Finland  ...

White House staff: Trump, through a spokeswoman on Thursday, denied reports that he's preparing to move along to his third White House chief of staff in a year and a half. John Kelly's ebbing stature in Trump's eyes, combined with Kelly's exhaustion and frustration in the role, may result in his exit before his first anniversary next month in a job that carries traditionally high burnout, according to The Wall Street Journal, Politico and other news outlets.

Possible successors, according to the Journal: Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvanay, and Nick Ayers, the vice president's chief of staff.

The president is soliciting ideas from associates about appointing a new chief, a sign that he wants to make a change - and also wants Kelly to know about his search for a new lieutenant without discussing it with him directly. "I spoke to the president, who refuted this," spokeswoman Walters told reporters on Thursday afternoon. "He said it is absolutely not true and that it is fake news."

Upshot: It's just a matter of time. Trump's denials invariably precede the leaked, rumored, whispered and much-chronicled West Wing staff changes he claims are inventions. As we wrote on Thursday, pointing out political scientists' current data as backup, Trump's White House staff turnover is historic.

US-Russia summit: The Hill: Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki. The meeting will take place at the end of Trump's scheduled trip to Europe next month, following stops in Brussels for a NATO summit and a trip to the United Kingdom.

It will be the first formal summit meeting between Trump and Putin, who have spoken together twice on the sidelines of annual gatherings of world leaders. The sit-down is scheduled at a particularly critical moment, with midterm elections looming in the United States and a special counsel probe tied to Russia distracting Trump at home (The New York Times). 

What is the agenda for the summit? "The president is pursuing this meeting in the interest of national security and to determine whether Russia is willing to make progress in our relationship," White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said on Thursday. "The president hopes that the meeting can help reduce tension and leads to productive engagement that improves peace and security around the world."

Interior Department - investigation: The Hill: The department's inspector general, following reporting by Politico, is investigating Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's financial entanglements with the head of Halliburton, a prominent oil services giant.

Commerce Department - insider trading: The Hill: House and Senate Democrats wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking a probe into financial transactions allegedly made by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in possible violation of insider trading laws.

IRS - administrator: The Wall Street Journal: Trump's nominee to head the IRS, Charles Rettig, answered senators' questions during his confirmation hearing on Thursday, telling them that rebuilding trust in the agency is a priority.

IMMIGRATION: Justice Kennedy's retirement temporarily shifted cable news coverage away from the southern border, even as developments emerged on Thursday.

The vice president, wrapping up a trip in Central America, repeated the administration's warning to the home countries that witness the surges of immigrants seeking opportunities in America. "If you want to come to the United States, come legally, or don't come at all. If someone tells you they can bring you or your children to America, don't believe them," Pence said. "Don't risk your lives or the lives of your children by trying to come to the United States on the road run by drug smugglers and human traffickers."

Separately, in a new report about trafficking of migrant children, the State Department warned against separating immigrant families: "Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets" (The Hill).

First lady Melania Trump made a second visit to a border state to visit detention facilities that house migrant families. She traveled to Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday and joined officials during a roundtable discussion (The Hill). The president was traveling in Wisconsin.

A former employee with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who quit in a dispute with higher-ups, accused Attorney General Jeff Sessions of being untruthful about federal immigration enforcement actions (CBS News). And at least 19 ICE investigators want to dissolve the agency and establish a new entity as the agency is pressured from within the federal hierarchy, and from outside (The New York Times).

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), considered a potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, became the first sitting senator on Thursday to call for ICE to be abolished (The Hill). She told CNN's Chris Cuomo that it has become a "deportation force."

Female Democratic lawmakers tried to keep the migrant-families pressure on the administration on Thursday. The U.S. Capitol Police arrested Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and 600 others who were protesting the administration's immigration policies. She was with demonstrators conducting a sit-in at the Hart Senate Office Building. "I'm proud to have been arrested with them," she said in a video posted on Twitter (The Hill).

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) also took part (see the video clip by a reporter for the Daily Beast).

 

OPINION

Is civility in America really dead? by Shermichael Singleton, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2IBwHho

Mitch McConnell's gamble is about to pay off in a big way, by Frank Cannon, president of The American Principles Project. https://bit.ly/2yUA97i

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The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley jeasley@thehill.com & Alexis Simendinger asimendinger@thehill.com. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill's reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

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WHERE AND WHEN

The House is back in session on July 10.

The Senate resumes work on July 9.

The president will tout the provisions of the 2017 GOP tax bill and job creation at a midday event at the White House. In the afternoon, Trump and the first lady depart for their summer residence in Bedminster, N.J.

Vice President Pence concludes a weeklong trip to South America and Central America today by way of Miami, where he meets with leaders from the Latin American community, and delivers remarks. He flies back to Washington this afternoon.

 

ELSEWHERE

> Justice Department charges hundreds in health-care fraud, opioid crackdown (Reuters). The unrelated enforcements, including federal charges against 162 doctors, were announced on Thursday as part of an annual offensive against health-care fraud.

> Amazon to buy online pharmacy PillPack, jumping into the drug business (The New York Times).

> Travel photographer of the year contest and the winning images of 2018 (National Geographic). Grand prize was $10,000. See all the pix!

THE CLOSER

And finally ...  Morning Report readers dove into the QUIZ CONTEST on Thursday and had no trouble correctly matching up quotes this week from President Trump; Attorney General Jeff Sessions; Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.); former White House senior adviser Stephen Bannon; and Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney.

Quiz winners today are Robert Easley (yes, Jonathan's dad!), Ashley Cummins, Francesca Friedenberg, Norm Roberts, Patrick Bourgeron, David Elliot, Rachel McGovern, Mary Vita P. Treano, Sandy Sycafoose, Janet Baldocchi, Greg Stetson and Dara Umberger.

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