Trump meets with key senators over Kennedy’s replacement

President Donald Trump met with key senators at the White House on Thursday as the administration goes into a full-court press to nominate and confirm a new Supreme Court justice before the midterm elections next fall.

Trump met with three red-state Democrats who are all facing tough re-election fights this year: Sens. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly, of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota. The meetings came a day after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he’ll retire on July 31. The White House plans to nominate a new justice by July 9, CNN reported earlier Thursday.

Trump also met with Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, Susan Collins, of Maine, and Chuck Grassley, of Iowa. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump’s team also talked with a dozen other senators.

“Tonight President Trump met with Senators Grassley, Collins, Murkowski, Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy,” Sanders said in a statement. “The President’s team also talked with more than a dozen other Senators today as part of ongoing outreach to get views and advice from both sides of the aisle on this important nomination.”

All three Democratic senators are facing tough votes when Trump nominates a replacement for Kennedy. Their states went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 and a vote against the President’s nominee to the court could end up costing them votes from Trump supporters they would have needed to stay in office.

Heitkamp, who was previously praised by Trump as a “good woman” before he campaigned against her in North Dakota on Wednesday, said following the meeting that she’s still willing to hear him out on his court choice.

“Political speeches are just that, but the next day, I’m ready to get to work. As I said, if the President wants to meet with me, I’m ready to participate and advocate for North Dakota. And that’s exactly what happened today,” she said.

“President Trump and I had a solid discussion about the Supreme Court vacancy. We also discussed how the administration’s trade policies are hurting North Dakota’s farmers and ranchers, the need for doctors throughout rural communities, the importance of filling the vacant seat on the US District Court of North Dakota and the impact of oil prices.”

Put more succinctly to CNN’s Jeff Zeleny earlier this week, Heitkamp said, “He’s going to say some mean things about me. That’s OK. I’m not a grudge carrier.”

Trump’s meetings with Murkowski and Collins appear to be an attempt to shore up support within his own party.

He’ll need both of their votes to confirm his eventual nominee, given that Republicans have a slim 51-49 advantage in the upper chamber and Sen. John McCain is in his home state of Arizona fighting brain cancer.

Murkowski and Collins have voted against Trump’s agenda before, previously casting “no” votes that helped kill the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act in the summer of 2017. Both are pro-abortion rights Republicans, and their support for Trump’s eventual nominee would not be assured if either were concerned that nominee could play a role in overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade case, which legalized abortion. But both voted to confirm his last Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch.