Presented with the opportunity to fill a second vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, and with only the narrowest of majorities in the U.S. Senate, President Donald Trump on Thursday evening began reaching out to Democrats from Red states, looking for possible votes in favor of his eventual nominee.
Meeting at the White House with a group of Senators, the President sat down with the three Democrats who voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch back in April of 2017 – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) – all of whom could be in play on this nomination as well, as all three are up for re-election in 2018.
“I look forward to more positive meetings,” Sen. Manchin said in a tweet after he left the White House.
“I had a good conversation with the president on a range of issues, including the Supreme Court vacancy,” Donnelly said in a written statement, as he also touched on a variety of other items, like his concerns about the President’s recent moves on trade, which could play a role in the November elections as well.
Outside the White House gates, Heitkamp taped her reply to the President, and the voters back in her home state.
The meeting with Heitkamp came a day after Mr. Trump had held a campaign rally in Fargo, North Dakota for Heitkamp’s election opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), where the President labeled Heitkamp a “liberal,” and urged voters to “fire” her in November.
“When Heidi ran for office, she promised to be an independent vote for the people of North Dakota,” Trump said, showcasing the pressure that will be on these three Democrats during this election year.
“The President assured me that he wants to pick someone who could gain a wide amount of support,” Heitkamp said after her meeting, vowing on Twitter that she was ready to work with Mr. Trump.
The Supreme Court nomination – and the general election pressure from Mr. Trump and Republicans – promises to create a unique blend of public heat on Heitkamp, Manchin, Donnelly and other Democrats, as the calendar moves toward November, and closer to a vote on a new Supreme Court Justice.
While Republicans will try to put heat on a number of other Democrats in general, and over the Supreme Court choice, there really aren’t that many Senate Democrats who would seem to be inclined to vote for one of the 25 people on Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court list, which has been public for months on the White House website.
For many Democrats, one issue that has jumped to the forefront is the future of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
“Is Roe v Wade important in this Supreme Court, and the answer is, yes, and a lot of other things too,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who faces a tough election challenge from Gov. Rick Scott of Florida.
Two of the names on the President’s short list were from Nelson’s home state of Florida, including ex-Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL), who now serves on the Florida Supreme Court.
As for Republicans, they were also waiting to see who the President would tap for the Supreme Court.
“The press told me it was an average of 67 days from nomination to confirmation,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). “I figured that was a pretty good guideline.”
A timeline of that nature would allow Mr. Trump to make his choice in early July, have confirmation hearings in the Senate, and then a debate – and vote – in September, ensuring that the new Justice would be on the bench by the time the court convenes for the new term, on the first Monday in October.
While most Republicans are likely to be behind the President, a few will certainly be under the microscope on the nominee – such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has been openly critical of Mr. Trump at times, but voted with the President on most major issues.
“I would like to see a nominee who will interpret the law and not legislate from the bench,” Flake told a group of reporters, as we pursued him in the basement of the Capitol after a Senate vote.
While the tenor of the questioning was fairly basic – and the substance of the Supreme Court choice was quite normal for a hallway interview – Flake was in no mood to hang around with reporters for an extended discussion, as the Arizona Republican gave us a quick quote, and then leaped across the subway tracks to get back to his office, as reporters scurried after him.
The opportunity to put another Justice on the Supreme Court only added to the historical advantage for Republicans on the High Court over the last half century – since President Lyndon Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall in 1967, Democrats have had only four nominees make it on to the Court; this choice by Mr. Trump would be the 15th for a Republican President.