FARGO, N.D. — President Trump quickly sought to make the looming fight over the Supreme Court vacancy a major issue in this fall’s midterm elections, telling voters here that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement makes it even more crucial that Republicans maintain majority control of Congress.
Speaking at a campaign rally just hours after Kennedy’s announcement, Trump said he was hoping to pick a successor with “intellect” — a “great one” who could serve “40 years, 45 years.” Although Senate Republicans have suggested they will take up confirmation hearings before November, Trump warned that Democrats could block his pick, making the midterm elections crucial for Republicans.
“Justice Kennedy’s retirement makes the issue of Senate control one of the most important issues of our time, the most important thing we can do,” Trump declared, warning his supporters that Democrats would pick judges that would “destroy your freedoms.”
“We need more Republicans, especially in the Senate.” Trump continued. “We have to hold the House, and maybe even increase it. I think we can do it.”
Trump was in Fargo campaigning for Rep. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who is locked in a tight race to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a conservative Democrat who has backed Trump on issues like immigration and was considered for a spot in his administration. Though Trump has been friendly with Heitkamp, recently hosting her at the White House for a bill signing, the president repeatedly lambasted her as a close ally of liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and suggested she would likely oppose his pick for the Supreme Court — even though she broke with her party and voted for his last pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“Heidi will vote ‘no’ to any pick we make,” Trump claimed.
In a statement, Heitkamp, who has highlighted her support for the president’s agenda in campaign ads, did not respond to Trump’s Supreme Court remarks but reaffirmed her interest in working with Trump. “While we saw election-year politics today, I’m always willing to work with the president if he’s helping North Dakota, and if he’s not, I’ll speak up,” Heitkamp said. “Today’s rally hasn’t changed that.”
At one point, Trump praised Kennedy for his service and said he was “honored” that the longtime justice decided to retire during his presidency — which he suggested was a deliberate choice.
“He felt confident in me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy, that’s why he did it,” Trump said.
(Cover thumbnail photo: Evan Vucci/AP)
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