Senate Dem on Trump's court pick: 'I’ve never seen a president…make himself a puppet of outside groups'

ABC News (NEW YORK) — President Trump’s top outside adviser on his Supreme Court nomination said he’s “very confident” Republicans can “get anybody confirmed,” but a leading Democratic senator suggested that the president is making himself “a puppet” by selecting a Supreme Court nominee from a list compiled by conservative groups.

“I’m very confident with this president’s enthusiasm and with Leader [Mitch] McConnell’s enthusiasm that they can get anybody confirmed,” Trump Adviser on Judicial Nominations Leonard Leo told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday.

Leo, who is on leave from the conservative Federalist Society to advise Trump on his Supreme Court pick, would not confirm whether Trump had made his final selection. But he called four finalists for the nomination – appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett, Thomas Hardiman, Brett Kavanaugh, and Raymond Kethledge – “extraordinarily distinguished people.” Leo singled out Barrett and Kavanaugh as having “a lot of name recognition among supporters of the president, and I think that ultimately when people like them are nominated you’ll see a lot of folks line up.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee that holds hearings on Supreme Court nominees, responded on “This Week” that Trump has “outsourced” his decision to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, which helped compile a list of 25 potential nominees from which the president has said he would make his selection. Leo was instrumental in crafting the list as executive vice president of the Federalist Society.

“It is extraordinary,” Blumenthal said in a separate interview following Leo. “I was a law clerk to [former Justice Harry Blackmun]. I’ve argued cases before the Supreme Court for them. I’ve never seen a president of the United States in effect make himself a puppet of outside groups and choose from a group of right-wing fringe ideologues that are prepared on this list.”

Trump is set to announce his nominee to fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy in a prime-time televised address Monday.

The appointment is seen as crucial because Kennedy was often a swing vote who would sometimes side with the court’s four conservative justices and at other times with its liberals. A more conservative justice could move the court to the right, potentially for decades, and could potentially vote with the majority to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Trump during his campaign in 2016 said he would appoint justices who would overturn the landmark 1973 decision that said women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

“If we put another two or perhaps three justices on … [overturning Roe v. Wade] will happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court,” Trump said in his third debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Blumenthal told Stephanopoulos on “This Week” that the public supports abortion rights. In a Quinnipiac University Poll released Monday, 63 percent of Americans agree with the decision in Roe v. Wade and just 31 percent disagree.

“The vast majority of American people, shown by poll after poll, want Roe v. Wade to be preserved,” Blumenthal said.

In his earlier interview with Leo, Stephanopoulos asked about the concern that anyone on Trump’s list of potential nominees would oppose Roe v. Wade.

“Nobody really knows” how the next justice will vote, Leo said. “I think it’s a bit of a scare tactic and rank speculation.”

Stephanopoulos also asked Leo about an argument by some Democrats, including Blumenthal, that no new justice should be appointed until after special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is finished because it would be improper for the president to nominate someone who may have jurisdiction over the probe.

“How do you respond to that argument?” Stephanopoulos said.

“I think that’s a red herring,” Leo responded. “There are always issues [that the] executive branch and president deal with on a regular basis that are extraordinarily important and controversial, and we don’t hold up Supreme Court nominations or confirmations for those.”

Later, in Blumenthal’s appearance on “This Week,” the senator pushed back on this point. He referred to recent statements by Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani that the president won’t agree to an interview with Mueller unless something is “uncovered” and there is a clear basis for the interview.

“It’s far from ‘a red herring’ when Rudy Giuliani is saying [Trump] will not be interviewed — the president will refuse to talk to Robert Mueller or his team unless he is given evidence of a crime,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal added, “The next justice on this Supreme Court will probably be the swing vote in deciding whether [the president] has to comply with a subpoena” from Mueller if a subpoena is issued.

Blumenthal also said on “This Week” that he believes Democrats could block the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice before the November midterm elections.

“The Republicans control the votes in the Senate, but we have the American people on our side,” he said. In addition to wanting to preserve Roe v. Wade, he said, the public wants “protections for millions of Americans” on health care. “They want … voting rights and gay rights and other rights to be not only preserved, but also enhanced.”

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