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

 

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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 McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump 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 PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas 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 ShulkinVeterans group sues to block advisers known as ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ from influencing VA Mar-a-Lago insiders provided input on VA policy, personnel decisions: report Ahead of speech, Kansas City newspaper urges Trump to listen to veterans 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) ManchinThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world 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 KainePoll: Kaine leads GOP challenger by 19 points in Va. Senate race GOP offers to ban cameras from testimony of Kavanaugh accuser Corey Stewart fires aide who helped bring far-right ideas to campaign: report MORE (D), Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV Keeping up with Michael Avenatti 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (D-N.Y.) asked Trump to nominate former President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandBudowsky: Kavanaugh and the rights of women Hirono: Dems could keep SCOTUS seat vacant for two years Kavanaugh understands a good judge is an umpire — not a diva MORE. (That’s not going to happen).



LEADING THE DAY

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.

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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) TesterTrump Jr. campaign event looks for new venue after Montana restaurant declines to host CBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski 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 TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency 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.Donald (Don) John TrumpFlake condemns Trump Jr. Instagram post mocking Kavanaugh accuser Trump Jr. campaign event looks for new venue after Montana restaurant declines to host The Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms 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 HeitkampThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls 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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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

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 InhofeTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Steady Kavanaugh proves to be a tough target for Democrats 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 booming economy trumps Trump's trade battle with China On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' Ross: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' new tariffs on China MORE and Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Big-game hunters infuriated by Trump elephant trophy debacle Interior moves ahead with opening wildlife refuge next to contaminated nuclear site 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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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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OPINION

Free speech means a free Internet, even if Democrats don’t like it, by Dan Backer, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2zlvA6u

Americans are to be first casualties of Trump’s looming trade war, by John Foote, opinion contributor with The Hill. https://bit.ly/2MNfN1O

WHERE AND WHEN

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 TrumpPamela Anderson claims she convinced Melania Trump to stop wearing fur The Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify publicly MORE are hosting Vice President Pence and Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Falling Trump approval worries GOP | Florence nears coast | Trump touts Puerto Rico response The Hill's 12:30 Report — East coast braces for Florence | Trump, Pence mark 9/11 anniversary The Hill's 12:30 Report — White House counsel to depart this fall 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 NielsenFEMA administrator nearly quit amid feud with DHS chief: report DOJ looking into 'concerning' behavior by employee in Project Veritas video New Defense cyber strategy gives military power on preventative cyberattacks 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.  

 

ELSEWHERE

> 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).

THE CLOSER

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.