WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Donnelly, who was already in the hot seat over the Supreme Court opening, turned down an offer to be at President Trump’s unveiling of his nominee Monday night.
“While I appreciate the invitation from the White House to attend this evening’s announcement,” Donnelly said in a statement, “I declined so that I can meet first with the nominee in a setting where we can discuss his or her experience and perspectives.”
Trump is scheduled to announce his choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy at 9 p.m.
Donnelly is one of the three pivotal Democrats who voted last year to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee. The others were North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
Heitkamp and Manchin also declined an invitation to attend Monday’s announcement.
Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Joyce said Donnelly would have gone if he’s as strong a Trump ally as he claims.
“Given the chance to represent Hoosiers at tonight’s announcement, Joe Donnelly decided that he has better things to do,” Joyce said.
Moderate GOP senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine whom Democrats hope might oppose the nominee to protect abortion rights also declined to attend the announcement, as did libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Senators who DECLINED their invites to the White House tonight to hear Trump announce his Supreme Court nominee:
Who does this confirmation hinge upon the most?
— Laura Litvan (@LauraLitvan) July 9, 2018
No matter who Trump chooses, the confirmation vote will be close because Republicans hold a narrow 51-to-49 margin in the Senate
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been absent while battling brain cancer, leaving the GOP majority almost no room for defections — unless a few Democrats break with their party and support Trump’s pick.
Donnelly, Manchin and Heitkamp met with Trump at the White House last month to discuss the vacancy. Also there were Murkowski and Collins.
In a statement released after that meeting, Donnelly didn’t say what he told Trump. But the following week Donnelly told the Richmond Palladium-Item that he asked Trump to consider for the seat a moderate, who is “in the mold of Anthony Kennedy,” and could potentially serve as a swing-vote on the court, much like Kennedy did during his decades on the nation’s highest court.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, we need you to select a moderate. Someone who is common sense, someone in the mold of Anthony Kennedy, because we need to bring our country together,'” Donnelly said. “So I’m hopeful that the president … I’m hopeful he listens.”
To win re-election this fall, Donnelly needs an energized Democratic base and strong support among suburban women, among other constituencies. A “no” vote on the nominee could thrill those critical voting blocs — but motivate more Republicans to turn out against him.
Trump is choosing from a list of nominees vetted by conservative groups that includes Indiana’s Amy Coney Barrett, a longtime professor at Notre Dame Law School who was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit last year.
Barrett, however, was spotted at her South Bend home less than two hours before the announcement.
Judge Barrett told reporters, 'I can’t confirm nor deny anything but you can see that I’m here"
— Steve Brusk (@stevebruskCNN) July 9, 2018
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Monday that the fate of affordable health care and women’s reproductive rights “hang in the balance” with the Supreme Court opening.
“It is near-impossible to imagine that President Trump would select a nominee who isn’t hostile to our health care law,” Schumer said, “who isn’t hostile to a woman’s freedom to make her own health care decisions.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Americans won’t fall for the “far-left fear mongering they’ve tried over and over again for forty years.”
“Our Democratic colleagues still haven’t tired of crying wolf whenever a Republican president nominates anyone to the Supreme Court,” McConnell said.
After Trump announces his choice, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network plans to launch a $1.4 million campaign in national cable and digital ads in four states, including Indiana.
Officials with a leading pro-Trump group, America First Policies, say they are readying a seven-figure campaign to support Trump’s choice and pressure red-state Democrats to back the nominee
And Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has made Indiana a priority in its national campaign that will include phone calls and door knocking asking voters to tell Donnelly to support the nominee.
On the other side, the liberal Demand Justice — which has already run ads urging Collins and Murkowski to oppose an anti-abortion nominee – plans to air ads in Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia to help Democratic senators there oppose the nominee. Those ads will praise Donnelly for trying to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing health conditions.