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The America First Action super PAC, a group that has backed the Trump presidency from the start, is developing a strategy to persuade senators to support the president’s eventual pick to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court — with an eye on convincing members of both parties.
“We are going to encourage those on the fence to get on board with his nomination, whether they’re Republican or Democrat,” the organization’s finance chairman, Roy Bailey, told CNBC on Monday.
When asked how the group plans to sway undecided lawmakers, however, he deferred to Brian O. Walsh, a veteran political operative and president of the super PAC. Walsh, according to Bailey, “will be drawing up a strategy.” Walsh was unavailable to comment.
Trump said he plans to announce his choice on July 9.
Bailey said he hopes Trump will pick someone like Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom the president named to the court last year.
“I’m looking for a constitutional conservative judge and someone that interprets the Constitution as it was intended,” Bailey said.
Gorsuch, a conservative, was narrowly confirmed by the Senate. Three red state Democrats up for re-election this year — Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — joined the GOP to support him.
This time, however, it might be harder for Trump’s nominee to garner any Democratic votes as Kennedy, despite being appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, had been a swing vote to preserve a woman’s right to get an abortion under the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has also indicated she would not support a nominee who demonstrated “hostility” toward Roe.
America First Action started discussing how to bolster the president’s eventual pick last week, when Thomas O. Hicks Jr., a chairman of the PAC and the nonprofit sister group America First Policies, met with oil tycoon Harold Hamm, an America First Policies board member, to start developing a strategy, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told CNBC. A final decision has not been made on how or when they will roll out their line of attack, the source said.
Hicks declined to comment on the existence of the meeting but did say: “We will absolutely be supporting the President’s nominee and will have a game plan ready very soon.” Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary and current America First spokesman, said there was nothing yet to announce. A spokeswoman for Hamm declined to comment.
Besides Collins, other senators indicated they could well be on the fence once Trump makes his pick.
After meeting with Trump on Thursday about the looming decision, Democrat Heitkamp said she encouraged the president to nominate someone who would be a “non-ideological” judge to succeed Kennedy.
“I told the president that he has a chance to unite the country by nominating a true non-ideological jurist who could gain strong support from senators on both sides of the aisle, rather than create more divisions,” she said in a statement last week.
Heitkamp is embroiled in a tough re-election campaign against Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer. Campaign analysis site Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball pegs the North Dakota senate race as a toss-up.
Manchin and Donnelly, two other Democrats who are battling to keep their seats, also met with Trump.
American First Action will be the latest external group to back Trump’s eventual Supreme Court nominee as a potential fight brews in the Senate before midterm elections.
On Friday, CNBC reported that the White House was asking Americans for Prosperity, which is part of the influential group backed by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, to join a coalition of advocates that will promote the administration’s replacement for Kennedy.
America First Policies has reaffirmed to the White House that it will back any of the nominees that are on the list that the administration publicized in November 2017, but conversations are likely to intensify as the White House comes closer to making its final decision, a person familiar with the plan told CNBC.
A spokesman for America First Policies declined to comment on Friday.