BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — President Donald Trump praised Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s progress in winning confirmation to the Supreme Court on Thursday, decrying the “anger and the meanness on the other side — it’s sick.”
Campaigning in Billings, Montana, Trump sought to elevate Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a political litmus test for voters as he embraced a Republican challenger to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, a top Republican target in the fall elections.
Trump said at a rally alongside Tester’s opponent, state Auditor Matt Rosendale, that Tester “will never drain the swamp because he happens to live in the swamp.” Seeking to portray the Montana farmer as a tool of liberal Democrats, Trump said, “Jon Tester talks like he’s from Montana, but he votes like he’s Nancy Pelosi” — a reference to the House minority leader, who is a frequent Trump target.
Trump said many of the Senate Democrats whom Tester had helped elect “are attacking Judge Kavanaugh and looking like fools.” He said Kavanaugh deserved “overwhelming bipartisan support.”
Diving into the Supreme Court nomination fight, the president’s strategy aims to turn the screws on Tester and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, where Trump planned to appear for a fundraiser on Friday. The two red-state Senate Democrats find themselves caught between their Senate leaders and their states’ more conservative voters, who are more broadly supportive of Trump’s pick.
Neither senator has laid down a clear marker on how he or she will vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which Senate Republican leaders hope to bring to a vote before the full chamber later this month — just weeks before the general election.
White House officials contend the Supreme Court was a powerful motivator for Republican base voters in 2016, when Trump won the White House, and they’re seeking to capitalize on Kavanaugh’s confirmation to help overcome an enthusiasm gap with Democrats. Likewise, a vote for Kavanaugh by either Tester or Heitkamp could frustrate their Democratic base eager for a more confrontational approach to the Trump administration.
“It’s a real pickle,” said GOP strategist Josh Holmes.
At the rally, Trump said he’d “shut down the government over border security in a second” if it were up to him.
But he says he doesn’t want to do anything to hurt Republicans so close to the November midterm elections. Trump says he thinks the GOP will do “really well” on Nov. 6, when the party hopes to retain control of both houses of Congress.
Congress has been slow to fully fund construction of the wall Trump promised to build on the border with Mexico. He has reconsidered his threats to shut down the government when funding expires Sept. 30 as lawmakers work to pass annual spending bills.
Trump made the comment Thursday in an interview with Fox News that was broadcast for the audience at his campaign rally in Billings, Montana.On Friday, Trump is set to travel to Fargo, North Dakota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to attend fundraisers.
Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers James MacPherson in Bismarck, North Dakota; Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana; and Catherine Lucey in Washington contributed to this report.