The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Anticipation builds for Trump’s SCOTUS pick


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Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who has been at the center of the FBI’s Russia probe since 2016.

Legislating seems to be the least of concerns among senators returning next week for a drawn-out summer and early fall. And the Supreme Court is just one of the dramas.

The Hill: Senate battle over court nominee threatens to stymie legislative process.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled McConnell accuses Democrats of sowing division by 'downplaying progress' on election security Warren, Schumer introduce plan for next president to cancel ,000 in student debt MORE (R-Ky.), who was already keeping the upper chamber in session through part of the August recess to work through a backlog of judicial confirmations, may have another Cabinet nomination fight on his hands as well.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittJuan Williams: Swamp creature at the White House Science protections must be enforceable Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE resigned yesterday after months of scandals surrounding agency spending, conflicts of interest and influence peddling.

The EPA’s deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, will take over until the president nominates a successor and that person is confirmed by the Senate.

Many lawmakers believe that a president should get to pick his Cabinet but this White House will need a bulletproof EPA nominee after Pruitt’s disastrous tenure.

Anyway, nothing in the Trump era has been routine. Robert Wilkie, Trump’s pick to replace scandal-plagued former Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVA inspector general says former top official steered M contract to friend Schumer demands answers in use of unproven coronavirus drug on veterans Former Trump VA secretary says staffer found plans to replace him in department copier MORE, is still awaiting a Senate vote to lead an agency that has not had a confirmed secretary since February.

Of course, the Supreme Court confirmation fight to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy will swallow up most of the daylight in Washington between now and the midterm elections.

The president said Thursday he’ll make the final decision between two, three or four candidates by Sunday. The official unveiling will come during prime time on Monday at 9 p.m. Multiple media outlets are reporting that Trump has narrowed his list to a final three candidates, who we profiled in yesterday’s newsletter:

  • Brett Kavanaugh, 53, District of Columbia Court of Appeals judge: Kavanaugh has a deep catalog of legal opinions and is a well-regarded conservative judge from the Supreme Court’s “farm system.” But his opinions on two ObamaCare-related cases may cost him support from key conservatives. And in Trump’s current political climate, some Republicans worry about Kavanagh’s views of impeachment, as outlined when he co-authored the Starr report in the 1990s, The New York Times reports.
  • Amy Coney Barrett, 46, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judge: Barrett is the favorite among social conservatives. She’s the youngest candidate, a mother of seven including two adopted children from Haiti and a practicing Roman Catholic.  This pick would inflame liberals, while Republicans have objected to Democrats having questioned whether Barrett can separate her faith from her legal work.
  • Raymond Kethledge, 51, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals judge: Kethledge is a rare Ivy League outsider, having been schooled in his home state of Michigan, which Trump turned red for the first time in almost 30 years in 2016. Could he be the compromise candidate?

While the pressure will be on Republicans to remain united and win Trump a fifth conservative on the Supreme Court, this summer stretch will also be a pressure cooker for Senate Democrats.

There are 10 up for reelection in states Trump carried in 2016. They face a tricky balancing act between fired-up liberals and their red-state constituents.

Barrett, in particular, could present a unique challenge to several.

Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Senate leaders quash talk of rank-and-file COVID-19 deal OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (D-Ind.) both up for reelection in states Trump carried in 2016   voted to confirm Barrett to the appeals court last year. So did Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBiden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Second GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D), Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers The Hill's Campaign Report: Arizona shifts towards Biden | Biden prepares for drive-in town hall | New Biden ad targets Latino voters FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden MORE’s 2016 running mate, who faces an easier path to reelection in blue Virginia.

Manchin, Donnelly and Kaine are Catholic, like Barrett, and have spoken passionately about their faith in the past.

The Associated Press: Vice President Pence meets with Supreme Court contenders.

The Washington Post: Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell accuses Democrats of sowing division by 'downplaying progress' on election security Warren, Schumer introduce plan for next president to cancel ,000 in student debt Schumer lashes out at Trump over 'blue states' remark: 'What a disgrace' MORE (D-N.Y.) asked Trump to nominate former President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandTop GOP senator calls for Biden to release list of possible Supreme Court picks Biden agenda hinges on Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Biden VP possible next week; Meadows says relief talks 'miles apart' MORE. (That’s not going to happen).


TRADE: *** OVERNIGHT at 12:01 a.m. EDT *** The Trump administration's first round of China tariffs went into effect, and the United States began imposing a 25 percent tax on $34 billion in Chinese products, and Beijing reciprocated. The impacts are already being felt (Reuters).

Hours before the deadline, Trump raised the stakes, warning he may ultimately target over $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, or roughly the total amount of U.S. imports from China last year.

As The Hill’s Vicki Needham reports, the tariffs wielded by the United States and China raised global tensions before taking effect. On Thursday, Chinese officials assured the United States that Beijing would respond with hefty punishment applied to $34 billion in U.S. goods, hitting the agricultural sector the hardest. According to Xinhua News, the immediate tariffs ordered in Beijing impact 545 U.S. items, including vehicles and aquatic products.

China lashed out at the Trump administration’s “threats and blackmail,” just as the World Trade Organization reported that the number of trade restrictions among developed countries has doubled, and “poses a serious threat to growth and recovery in all countries,” The Hill’s Niv Elis reports.

U.S. businesses have scaled back or postponed spending because of the trade tensions, according to Financial Times.

Once again, U.S. agriculture takes it on the chin as Mexico retaliated on Thursday with its second round of tariffs on U.S. goods. Levies of between 15 and 25 percent were slapped on apples, cranberries, cheese, potatoes, pork and whiskey, among other food and beverage products, Politico reports.

Within days, Trump will be in Europe to attend a NATO summit in Brussels. The European Union is irate about U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, and worried about Trump’s threatened 20 percent levies on imported vehicles. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who days ago narrowly survived a domestic political challenge over immigration, knows how important the German auto industry is to her countrymen. She now says she’s open to reducing EU tariffs on U.S. automobiles, which has been among Trump’s demands, according to Reuters. But Merkel cannot speak for the entire European alliance.


POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Trump took his Make America Great Again rally to Great Falls, Mont. last night to stump for GOP Senate candidate Matt Rosendale, who is trying to unseat Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Filibuster fight looms if Democrats retake Senate MORE (D).

“It’s time to retire liberal Democrat Jon Tester.” - Trump

The president unloaded on Tester for voting against repealing ObamaCare, the GOP’s tax bill and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, among many other things. Trump also fumed at Tester for playing a key role in sinking his Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee, Adm. Ronny Jackson, who was accused of being drunk on duty and of liberally handing out prescriptions.

    “How did [Tester] get elected? … You can right your wrong in November.” -Trump

Trump carried Montana by 20 points in 2016, making Tester a top target for Republicans. Still, some are worried that Rosendale lacks the star wattage to take out an incumbent in the state. The only poll so far shows Tester ahead by 8 points.

The Wall Street Journal: Trump gears up for battle to oust Democrats in states he won.

For his part, Tester “welcomed” Trump to his home state with a new campaign ad highlighting their shared interests.

“Welcome to Montana, and thank you President TrumpDonald John TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response MORE for supporting Jon’s legislation to help veterans and first responders, hold the VA accountable, and get rid of waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government.”Tester campaign ad

Donald Trump Jr.Don John Trump'Tiger King' star Joe Exotic requests pardon from Trump: 'Be my hero please' Zaid Jilani discusses Trump's move to cancel racial sensitivity training at federal agencies Trump International Hotel in Vancouver closes permanently MORE: Jon Tester is no partner of President Trump.

And in an interview with “Vice News Tonight,” Tester refused to join the Democratic Party’s left flank, calling chatter among liberals about impeaching Trump “silly talk.”

Tester’s balancing act mirrors those of his Great Plains colleague, Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama MORE (D-N.D.), who is up for reelection in a state Trump carried by more than 35 points. Trump lambasted Heitkamp at a rally in North Dakota last week. The next day, Heitkamp trekked to the White House to discuss Supreme Court nominees with the president.

The president has been campaigning aggressively, both for Republicans running for Senate this year and for his own 2020 presidential campaign.

Since May, Trump’s political and official travel has taken him to Montana, West Virginia, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Nevada, Minnesota, Texas, Tennessee and New York.

There are several states with vulnerable Democrats up for reelection where Trump has not visited this summer – Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, among them, although Vice President Pence has been to a handful of these.

Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who was with his father in Montana last night, has also been a fixture on the trail.

On the Democratic side, former President Obama is back on the scene. Obama will speak in Spain and Portugal over the next several days at economic and climate change forums.

And Hillary Clinton will make an appearance in New York City. The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee will headline this year’s OZY fest on July 21 in Central Park. The two-day arts festival will also feature musical acts Passion Pit and Common, as well as comedians Chelsea Handler and Michelle Wolf.



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ADMINISTRATION & WHITE HOUSE: Pruitt, one day after attending Fourth of July festivities at the White House, stepped down as EPA administrator, following months of sustained investigations, revelations and hand-wringing about his decisions, even among allies on Capitol Hill.

“I think Scott felt that he was a distraction,” Trump told reporters.

Pruitt submitted his resignation to the president, who announced it on Twitter. EPA deputy Wheeler takes the reins as acting head of the agency. 

The Hill: Pruitt resigns effective today.

The Hill: Ex-EPA aides described an environment of fear inside the agency.

The Wall Street Journal: Acting administrator Wheeler is an ex-coal and energy lobbyist.

Trump used the word “outstanding” to describe the former Oklahoma attorney general’s work at the EPA. And the business community has praised the administrator’s deregulatory zeal. Pruitt’s defenders complain the administrator was a victim of environmentalists wielding Freedom of Information Act requests and court challenges, backed by journalists on speed dial.

But even Pruitt’s friend from Oklahoma, Republican Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Top admiral: 'No condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' When 'Buy American' and common sense collide MORE, said recently he tried to talk to Pruitt about toning down his numerous controversies, telling reporters the administrator got “a wake-up call.” Pruitt never found a way to halt the barrage of eyebrow-raising coverage that lasted months, triggering turmoil inside the agency and an exodus by senior aides (The Washington Post).

The fresh coverage on Thursday before the resignation announcement: “EPA aide questioned deleting sensitive meeting details, then she was fired” (The New York Times).

Democratic lawmakers wasted no time before celebrating Pruitt’s goodbye.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer hinted that ripe targets for ethics critiques still remain in Trump’s realm. He didn’t point to examples, but they include Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill Judge orders Trump administration stop 'winding down' census collection, processing efforts Animal rights group sues US government to prevent aquarium from acquiring 5 beluga whales MORE and Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump extends Florida offshore drilling pause, expands it to Georgia, South Carolina Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet MORE. 

Perhaps it was just in time that the president announced he hired a new deputy chief of staff for communications, Bill Shine, who traveled with Trump aboard Air Force One to Montana on Thursday (The Hill).

Trump has largely been his own communications director for many months, and it remains to be seen if Shine, the former co-president of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, can gain any traction in an understaffed White House hobbled by infighting and an improvisational boss.

The New York Times: Shine, ousted by Fox News after sexual harassment scandals, joins White House.

The role of a communications chief in any West Wing is to guide the president’s public presentations on offense — months in advance — a tall order with a president who prefers to plan by the minute, and often on defense.   

IMMIGRATION: Border crossings dropped sharply in June, according to new data from the Department of Homeland Security.

May apprehensions: 40,338

June apprehensions: 34,114

DHS credited the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for the drop, although the decrease maintained seasonal patterns seen over the past five years.

"Following the implementation of the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, the June 2018 Southwest Border Migration numbers declined by 18 percent when compared to the previous month … the journey north is dangerous and puts individuals in the hands of smugglers and traffickers. We continue to call on Congress to address the crisis at the border by closing legal loopholes that drive illegal immigration.” – DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houston.

Meanwhile, the administration is still scrambling to unite the children and parents who were separated at the border.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a conference call on Thursday that about 100 children under the age of 5 will soon be reunited with their parents. HHS has until Tuesday to complete that task to comply with a federal court order. For children between the ages of 5 and 17, the agency has until July 26.

Azar fumed at what he described as the “artificial deadline created by the court.”

“That deadline was not informed by the process needed to vet parents, including confirming parentage as well as determining the suitability of placement with that parent.” – Azar

The Hill: HHS using DNA tests to reunite migrant families.

The Associated Press: U.S. Army quietly discharging immigrant recruits.

The Trump administration was dealt another legal blow on immigration on Thursday, with a federal judge in California rejecting their efforts to block California’s sanctuary city law.


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Free speech means a free Internet, even if Democrats don’t like it, by Dan Backer, opinion contributor with The Hill.

Americans are to be first casualties of Trump’s looming trade war, by John Foote, opinion contributor with The Hill.


The House will be back in session on July 10.

The Senate resumes work on July 9.

The president today is at his home in Bedminster, N.J., where he will remain for the weekend. He and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpWarning label added to Trump tweet over potential mail-in voting disinformation New Melania Trump statue replaces one that burned to the ground in Slovenia The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Latest with the COVID-19 relief bill negotiations MORE are hosting Vice President Pence and Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Pence elbow bump at NYC Sept. 11 ceremony The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill Pentagon, Trump, Biden to mark 9/11 anniversary MORE for dinner there this evening.

The vice president speaks this morning at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Washington, accompanied by Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDHS IG won't investigate after watchdog said Wolf, Cuccinelli appointments violated law Appeals court sides with Trump over drawdown of immigrant protections Democrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint MORE, secretary of homeland security. He’ll meet with ICE employees after his speech. Later he and the second lady travel to New Jersey to join the president.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in North Korea to continue talks about denuclearization. He’ll be in Tokyo over the weekend to meet with Japanese and South Korean leaders. (ChoSun Media reports that Pompeo brought Kim Jong Un two gifts from Trump. One was a signed copy of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” CD, and the other a letter from the president.)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. releases the jobs report for June. Wall Street analysts expect to see strong employment growth and an unemployment rate that hovered at 3.8 percent during May and June.  



> Federal Reserve on lookout for recession but still sees a strong economy, by Jason Lange, Reuters.

> Walmart takes a stand on guns, gay rights to get people to like it more, by Sarah Nassauer, The Wall Street Journal.

> The 105th Tour de France begins Saturday. The Wall Street Journal calls it a “queasy feast.” So, in that case, check out the gustatory tour, too (The Associated Press).


And finally …  Lots of Morning Report readers went the whole nine yards with the QUIZ CONTEST on Thursday to identify the incorrect historical reference (out of five listed, all themed around “nine”). Masterful guessers knew that No. 2 was incorrect (“The first English colony was founded at Jamestown, Va., in 1609.”) The year was 1607. 

Here’s the entire quiz menu again, and kudos to all who played along:

1) There have been nine U.S. Supreme Court justices since the Judiciary Act of 1869; 2) The first English colony was founded at Jamestown, Va., in 1609; 3) New York’s delegates in 1776 did not officially give their support to the Declaration of Independence until July 9; 4) The ninth president of the United States was the first to die in office; 5) George Mason, one of the Founding Fathers, and his wife had nine children.

Quiz Winners: Mike Sweat, Kay H., Vincent Cooper, Bob Koczera, Kay Katz, Norm Seip, Dara Umberger, David Anderson, Norm Roberts, Dan Hill, Sean T. Walsh, Raymond Williams, B.J. Ford, Jack Dinkmeyer, Patrick Alford and Troy Bains.