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Sen. Chuck Schumer offered a dire assessment this week of what would happen if President Donald Trump nominated a Supreme Court justice who could help to roll back abortion rights or the Affordable Care Act.
Trump called the Senate minority leader on Tuesday, and Schumer told the president that picking a justice hostile to the Roe v. Wade ruling or Obamacare would be "cataclysmic," a person familiar with the conversation told CNBC. The New York Democrat told Trump that such a choice would divide the United States and tarnish his legacy, the person added.
Schumer's arguments to the president underscore Senate Democrats' strategy of describing retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy's successor as critical to the future of health-care coverage and reproductive rights in the United States. Health-care issues have resonated with and energized the Democratic base during Trump's presidency.
Democrats have repeatedly warned that Roe — the landmark decision that legalized abortion rights in the United States — could be overturned if the Senate confirms Trump's nominee. They have tried to galvanize opposition to the president's potential pick, which he has not yet announced. Schumer has argued that the Senate should wait to vote on a new justice until after November's midterm elections, when Democrats have an outside chance of taking a majority in the chamber and blocking the president's choice.
The Washington Post first reported on the call between Trump and Schumer on Thursday.
As of now, two Republican women in the Senate could determine the future of abortion rights. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska could vote against a nominee if the potential justice shows a willingness to overturn the Roe decision. Trump's choice could technically stop short of showing hostility to the Roe ruling in front of the Senate, but then vote to overturn it while on the bench.
One Republican vote against the nominee would sink the confirmation in the narrowly divided Senate. Still, a "yes" vote from one or more red-state Democrats up for re-election this year could cancel out GOP defections.
Kennedy's retirement not only has massive stakes for the future of abortion rights and health care, but also Trump has the chance to put another young, conservative judge on the bench, tilting the court's ideological balance for years to come. His first choice to fill a seat last year, Justice Neil Gorsuch, already provided pivotal votes in rulings upholding the president's travel ban and weakening some aspects of labor unions, among others.
Trump chose Gorsuch after Senate Republicans blocked then-President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, from the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia's death in 2016. Schumer has cited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in arguing the GOP should wait to hold a vote on a justice until after the midterms.
In his call with Trump on Tuesday, Schumer urged the president to pick Garland to fill the vacancy as a way to unify the country, the person familiar with the conversation said. Trump has already interviewed a handful of candidates and has reportedly narrowed down his choices, so he may not have seriously considered any advice Schumer gave him.
McConnell's political team mocked Schumer's suggestion to nominate Garland on Thursday. On Twitter, his political organization responded to the original Post report with a video of basketball great Michael Jordan laughing uncontrollably.
Trump plans to announce his Supreme Court choice on Monday. He has reportedly narrowed his list down to candidates including appellate court Judges Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett.