Republicans mum on possibility of Trump filling Supreme Court seat

Republicans mum on possibility of Trump filling Supreme Court seat

The decision by Senate Republicans to block President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee is becoming a bigger political gamble as Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE comes closer to clinching their party’s nomination.

Endangered Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (R-N.H.), and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (R-Ill.), among others, have tried to distance themselves from Trump, but the Supreme Court debate is making that task more difficult. 

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Democrats increasingly argue that Republicans are threatening to block Obama’s replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia so that Trump has the power to shape the future of the court.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) sent out press releases on Wednesday linking Trump and the Supreme Court debate to Republicans in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“By backing Senator McConnell’s Supreme Court obstruction to help Donald Trump pick the next Supreme Court Justice, these Republican senators are locking themselves in a Trump straight jacket and throwing away the key,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

Senate Republicans are leery of the association with Trump because they privately harbor doubts about his judgment. Few, however, are willing to criticize him publicly. 

Senate Republicans on Thursday declined to say whether they would prefer that Trump fill the court vacancy instead of Obama. 

“I’m not going to answer that question,” Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrats spend big to put Senate in play This week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Nev.) said, chuckling, when asked about whom he more trusted to make the selection.

“I wouldn’t want to rank it,” echoed Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.).

“I’m not going to get into it,” added Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoGOP senator blocks bill aimed at preventing Russia election meddling The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Lawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank MORE (R-Idaho).

In any other presidential election year, it would be hard to imagine sitting Republican senators waver on the question of whether they would prefer their potential nominee or a sitting Democratic president shape the future of the Supreme Court.

Leon Wolf, a contributor on RedState.com, a conservative blog, opined over the weekend that Trump would probably nominate worse justices than Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMore than 200,000 Wisconsin voters will be removed from the rolls Trump is threatening to boycott the debates — here's how to make sure he shows up Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor MORE.

“Trump has literally never on the campaign trail expressed a belief that the power of the executive — as wielded by him — should be limited in any way,” he wrote.

Democrats have tried to exploit the doubts about Trump’s judgment. 

“First Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Hillicon Valley: Twitter to start verifying 2020 primary candidates | FTC reportedly weighs injunction over Facebook apps | Bill would give DHS cyber unit subpoena powers | FCC moves to designate 988 as suicide-prevention hotline Senate Republicans air complaints to Trump administration on trade deal MORE refuses to do his job, and now he’s ready to entrust Donald Trump with the responsibility of making a lifetime appointment to the country’s highest court,” Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the DSCC, said in a press release issued Wednesday.

Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents this year.

As Trump has solidified his lead by winning states and racking up delegates, vulnerable Republicans have distanced themselves from both him and the debate over Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

“I’m not in charge of the process,” Johnson said Thursday. “This is being blown way out of proportion by the left.

Johnson argues he’s trying to empower voters, not Trump, by pushing the court decision to 2017.

“We’re really letting the American people decide by their votes for whomever they decide for president. We’re taking a risk. There’s no guarantee,” he said. 

Some polls show a strong majority of independents in Senate battleground states think Obama and the Senate should fill the Supreme Court vacancy this year.

A survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, found that 62 percent of voters want Scalia replaced before the end of the year.

One Republican senator privately fretted that he and his fellow Senate Republicans could suffer political damage that costs them their majority and the White House, empowering a future Democratic president to nominate a far-left jurist who would likely be confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate. 

“What’s the point of falling on our swords if Trump’s going to lose,” said the lawmaker who requested anonymity to discuss his views frankly.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz did not find evidence Obama asked for probe of Trump MORE (R-Iowa) said it’s too soon to assume Trump will win the party’s nomination, even though he has built up a commanding lead in delegates.

“You ought to wait until he’s our nominee,” he said.

Some GOP strategists say vulnerable GOP incumbents will take political fire as long as they continue to refuse to hold confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominee, though question whether Trump’s dominance will hurt them even more.

“It’s going to be tough for vulnerable Republicans to defend the stance either way,” said John Ullyot, a GOP strategist and former Senate aide.  

Aides to endangered Republicans facing reelection argue that the Supreme Court is less of a motivating issue than the economy or national security. In states such as New Hampshire and Ohio, the crisis of opioid abuse ranks third in importance, they contend.

“The notion that this is going to drive millions of people to the polls with flecks of spit on the corners of their mouth, I just don’t buy it,” said Rich Galen, a GOP strategist. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on Thursday argued that Clinton or her rival, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers Reject National Defense Authorization Act, save Yemen instead MORE (Vt.), a self-described Democratic socialist, could prove to be as much of a political liability as Trump as the court debate heats up. 

“Republicans argue that Democrats are putting themselves in political danger by supporting a candidate who is under investigation for sending classified information on her private and unsecure email server — or — for supporting a self-described socialist,” said Alleigh Marre, a spokeswoman for the committee.