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Congress ready for battle on Trump’s second high court pick

President Trump will announce his Supreme Court nominee during a primetime address on Monday evening. And already, the political storms are brewing as Washington braces for a contentious confirmation battle. Judy Woodruff previews the announcement from both sides of the aisle from John Yang and Lisa Desjardins.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is among the most important decisions a president can make, and, tonight, the stakes are even higher. President Trump will announce his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who's often been the key fifth vote on landmark decisions like same-sex marriage.

    The pick could change the makeup of the Supreme Court for decades to come. Already, political forces are bracing for a contentious confirmation battle.

    We get a preview now from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Our John Yang is at the White House. Lisa Desjardins is on Capitol Hill.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, John, you're at the White House. What's the latest?

  • John Yang:

    Well, Judy, we're reliably told that the president made his final decision earlier today, but anyone who knows what that decision is isn't talking, at least not to us.

    Sunday, the president said he had narrowed it down to four, all conservative appeals court judges. They are — they were Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Thomas Hardiman.

    The youngest of them is 46, the oldest 53. So, any one of them could likely serve on the court for some years to come. They all have their backers and detractors.

    Social conservatives like Barrett. Legal conservatives are pushing Kavanaugh.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly has it be known that he thinks Kavanaugh and Kethledge would have the easier paths to confirmations in the Senate.

    And Hardiman already has the backing of someone named Trump, the president's sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired federal court judge who served with Hardiman on the appeals court.

    Earlier today, Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's personal attorneys, told our "NewsHour" colleague Yamiche Alcindor he thought it would be Hardiman, but he said quickly that he didn't know for sure.

    We will know the president's choice soon, and then it will be up to the Senate to advise and consent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, that brings it to you.

    This does come down to Senate confirmation. What are you hearing from Senate Republicans?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    For Senate Republicans, this is actually a joyous day. It's as if they just have to figure out which of the players from their team gets promoted to the NFL. They all have their favorite choices, as John was saying.

    But, from this viewpoint in the Senate, Judy, they believe the easiest choices to go through here would be Judges Hardiman and Judge Kethledge.

    Judge Kavanaugh, to get into some specifics, has a very long record. And there's some concern there in that record there may be some issues that would cause problems, especially in a Senate that very narrowly divided, 51-49, but Senator McCain is still battling cancer in Arizona, so it's technically 50 Republicans to 49 Democrats.

    They can't lose a single member. And Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have it let known that they're going to be paying very close attention to women's rights and abortion stances of these nominees.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So a close vote. Clearly, Democrats have something to say. What are they saying right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, for Democrats, they're placing for a big battle.

    But the truth is, Judy, that they need some help. They need probably a nominee that Collins and Murkowski wouldn't like, but they're ready. They have got files on all of these nominees.

    And they're particularly watching three of their own members, members who are up for reelection, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, all of them representing states that voted for Donald Trump.

    And we know they were invited to the White House tonight for this ceremony, this announcement, but we are told by Manchin's office and Heitkamp's office they will not be attending. They're obviously waiting, withholding judgment. We haven't heard either way from Donnelly's office.

    But it just shows the difficult position they're in, pressure from Democrats to vote against this nominee because it's so critical. Pressure from Republicans in their red-pinkish state to vote for them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, John, we're just a little less than three hours away. Remind us what the president himself has been saying about this.

  • John Yang:

    Well, the president is said to believe that his nomination of Neil Gorsuch was an unqualified success, both because of the stature of now Justice Gorsuch and the ease of his confirmation.

    He has called it a home run. He says he wants to hit another home run tonight. In his only tweet about this, specifically about this in the last 24 hours, he promised that his choice would be exceptional — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, John Yang at the White House, Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol. We're all watching and waiting. Thank you.

    And we will have more on the Supreme Court pick after the news summary.

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