Political News

'Inside Politics': McConnell advising Trump on Supreme Court pick

Posted July 8, 2018 10:30 a.m. EDT

— Here are the stories our DC insiders are talking about in this week's "Inside Politics" forecast -- a glimpse at tomorrow's headlines today.

1. The President and the majority leader

The Supreme Court confirmation fight that officially begins with Monday night's announcement puts front and center one of the most awkward but most important alliances in today's Washington: that of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It's a marriage of the combustible and the methodical, and one that at times has flared up over policy and temperament differences. But the President and the majority leader have found a way to make their relationship work, especially when it comes to judges.

The President tells aides that McConnell's advice and intelligence during the Neil Gorsuch confirmation process was invaluable. And while he wishes the pace of other federal court judicial confirmations was faster, the President is repeatedly told by White House counsel Don McGahn that McConnell deserves giant credit for the major progress achieved in that area as well.

Aides familiar with the relationship say the two men are talking at least once a day during the current court search, sometimes two or three. McConnell this past week has shared with the President his take on the early confirmation odds of those said to be on the final list, according to an administration official familiar with the process. Judges Thomas Hardiman and Raymond Kethledge are viewed by McConnell as the two with the best starting prospects, the official said, though this official and a GOP strategist also involved in the court process characterized McConnell's advice as, in the strategist's words, "his take on the math more than any personal or ideological preference."

That take is built from McConnell's methodical manner: three lunches a week open to all GOP senators; weekly meetings with committee chairman; and nonstop one-on-one calls with lawmaker and other players in the confirmation battle.

Once the pick is made, the nominee will begin courtesy calls on senators, a schedule that will be heavily influenced by McConnell's sense of the state of play.

2. A tale of two Trumps at NATO

As Trump prepares to head to Brussels for the annual NATO summit, European leaders are unsure of what to expect.

"One of the big questions that everyone is looking toward, both the European allies and some of his own aides, is which Trump we're going to get when he goes to the summit," said the New York Times' Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Allies fear they'll get a repeat of last year's summit, when Trump publicly castigated NATO member nations over defense spending. The summit also comes amid rising tensions resulting from tariffs imposed by Trump on the European Union and Canada.

Some of Trump's advisers want him to stay positive this time around, keeping the focus on the fact that many NATO countries have increased their military spending in response to US pressure. But it remains to be seen which Trump will take center stage in Brussels.

3. Abolish ICE? Activists say 'no thanks'

Amid growing outcry over the Trump administration's family separation policy, many prominent Democrats have joined calls to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

But many activists say shifting the focus to ICE is a bad idea.

"Immigration advocates told me they're actually concerned this movement to abolish ICE could take away from the family separation issue," the Daily Beast's Jackie Kucinich said.

Immigration and national security experts are weighing in, too. Jeh Johnson, President Obama's homeland security secretary, said in an op-ed this week that rather than abolish ICE entirely, the focus should be on reforming the agency.

Others, like National Immigration Forum head Ali Noorani, say that talk of abolishing or reforming ICE should be put on hold until all the families in government custody are reunited.

4. Red-state Democrats' Supreme Court playbook

As Trump prepares to announce his second nominee to the Supreme Court, vulnerable Senate Democrats running for reelection in states he won are facing immense pressure from both sides.

Liberal activists want Democratic senators to oppose any nomination by Trump, while Republicans want to turn up the heat on Democrats who will need to win over Republican voters to hold on to their seats.

Some Democrats are looking to one of their own for a strategy on how to thread the needle.

"There's an emerging playbook for red-state Democrats who may end up opposing President Trump's forthcoming Supreme Court nominee," said Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur. "And it was written by Jon Tester of Montana last year in 2017."

Tester voted against Trump's first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, saying that he refused to answer Tester's questions on where he stood on the question of money in politics and on abortion rights.

Three red-state Democrats voted to confirm Gorsuch, and for now, they're keeping their cards close to their chest in terms of how they plan to vote this time.

5. The battle between House Republicans and the DOJ enters a new phase

The ongoing battle between House Republicans and the Department of Justice could be entering new territory.

Republicans in Congress have been sparring with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for weeks over what they say is Rosenstein's failure to adequately respond to requests for documents related to the FBI's Clinton email and Russia probes.

Rosenstein has disputed those accusations, saying that the Justice Department was doing everything it could to meet the document requests. But last month, the House approved a nonbinding resolution giving the Justice Department until July 6 to turn over all documents requested by Congress.

On Friday, the department informed Congress that it had "substantially complied" with its requests -- but not fully.

"The question is, does this get better, as everybody hoped it would last week, or does it actually kick up a notch?" said the Washington Post's Karoun Demirjian. "Because if it kicks up a notch, we're potentially talking about things like contempt and impeachment."