Senate faces bitter fight over Trump’s next pick

The fight over President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE’s next nomination to the Supreme Court began almost immediately after the news broke of the opening on Wednesday.

Moments after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said he would retire, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes On The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (R-Ky.) said the Senate would act before the midterm election to confirm Trump’s next nominee.

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“We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Democrats immediately cried foul, arguing the nomination fight should come next year.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (N.Y.), recalling the bitter fight over Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Gorsuch: Those who don't have 'great confidence in America' should 'look elsewhere' Trump stacking lower courts MORE’s nomination to the court in 2016, demanded that McConnell hold off until a new Congress is seated in 2019. He said Republicans should let voters weigh in on the choice through the November midterm elections.

Schumer said it would be the “height of hypocrisy” for Republicans to move quickly after they held open the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat for more than a year in 2016.

McConnell blocked Garland, former President Obama’s nominee for that seat, from getting even a hearing. He said at the time that voters needed to help decide the ideological balance of the court by picking a new president.

“Millions of people are just months away from determining the senators who should vote to confirm or reject the president’s nominee, and their voices deserve to be heard,” Schumer said Wednesday.

Other Democrats, including Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinA national interest rate cap would harm consumers in the name of consumers Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts GOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi MORE (Ill.) and Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi Democratic senators quietly hope Biden wins over rivals Grassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel MORE (Calif.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, quickly echoed Schumer’s demands.

McConnell, for his part, called on Democrats to give Trump’s next pick fair consideration.

“It’s imperative that the president’s nominee be considered fairly and not subjected to personal attacks,” he said.

Democrats would appear to have little hope of blocking a Trump pick, though Republicans hold just 51 seats and usually have 50 members in the chamber given Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAmerica's newest comedy troupe: House GOP Michelle Malkin knocks Cokie Roberts shortly after her death: 'One of the first guilty culprits of fake news' Arizona Democratic Party will hold vote to censure Sinema MORE’s (R-Ariz.) battle with brain cancer.

Still, a vote before the midterm elections could be difficult for a number of Democratic senators facing reelection in states won by Trump, including Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures O'Rourke: Many Democrats 'complicit' in gun problem The Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (Ind.).

All are likely to face significant pressure to back Trump’s pick.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a group that advocates for conservative judges, announced Wednesday it would launch a million-dollar advertising campaign to pressure Democrats in red states to vote for Trump’s nominee. The group spent $10 million to support Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination last year.

“It’s going to be a big battle,” said Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (R-Utah), a former Judiciary Committee chairman.

Republicans think a Supreme Court debate will help rev up their base at a time when polls show Democratic voters are more enthusiastic about voting than Republicans. 

“It does once again heighten the importance of a Republican Senate to voters who are reminded again about how big an impact that the Senate majority has on who serves on the court,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPaul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan MORE (Mo.), a member of the Senate GOP leadership.

“I think that will encourage people who want to see that majority to continue to get out and work harder than they would have otherwise,” he added.  

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan MORE (Texas) said a Supreme Court fight is “one thing that energizes conservatives more than anything else.”

Abortion is likely to be a flashpoint in the debate, as Kennedy had been the fifth vote for upholding Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established a right to abortion in 1973.

Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw McConnell lashes out at Democrats over 'unhinged' criticism of Kavanaugh MORE (Alaska) are two Republicans who support abortion rights and are likely to exert significant influence on the debate.

They voted last year against legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare in part because it would have defunded Planned Parenthood.

Collins said she would prefer Trump to pick a more centrist judge in the mold of Kennedy, who ruled in cases such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey to uphold a woman’s right to an abortion.

“That obviously would be my preference but what I’m most looking for is a justice that will follow the law and the Constitution,” she said.

“I view Roe v. Wade as being settled law. It’s clearly precedent and I always look for judges who respect precedent,” Collins added.

Democrats on Wednesday framed the new Supreme Court vacancy as a proxy battle over the future of abortion and reproductive rights, a preview of their strategy for the months ahead.

“From Day One, President Trump and Vice President Pence have made it clear that turning back the clock on women’s health and reproductive rights is a top priority for them,” Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (D-Wash.) warned on the Senate floor.

Some GOP lawmakers say they want a conservative justice and have praised the possible candidates Trump listed during the 2016 presidential campaign as acceptable.

“The president has a lot of good choices. I hope they can give us a good, highly qualified nominee quickly. Then we’ll get on with it,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Armed Services panel gets classified briefing on Saudi attacks America's newest comedy troupe: House GOP GOP group hits Pence over Trump alleged business conflicts MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Trump has released a list of 25 people he would consider for the court, including William Pryor of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' Hillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill MORE (R) of Utah.

Graham, the sponsor of a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks, downplayed the likely impact on Roe v. Wade.

“Roe v. Wade has been affirmed many times in different ways,” he said. “There’s no litmus test.”

Republicans say they want to get started on the confirmation process as soon as possible.

“Aug. 1 we need to have someone ready,” said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), another member of the Judiciary Committee.

“I want a good lawyer who is whip smart, who is not a hater, who calls the balls and the strikes, who understands the way Madison meant the separation of powers to work, and who will listen to all points of view,” Kennedy added.

It has taken the Senate between 66 and 87 days to confirm the last four Supreme Court nominees. If that trend holds, it would set up a confirmation vote for October, shortly before Election Day.

Chief Justice John Roberts was confirmed in 2005 in an especially quick time frame, 23 days.

Kennedy’s resignation will become effective on July 31.