National

At rally, Trump lauds Kavanaugh

progress, decries ‘meanness’

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.

Democrats question whether the Kavanaugh vote will resonate in the race to unseat Tester, the Big Sandy farmer who has emphasized his independence and willingness to cross the partisan aisle to work with the president, who carried Montana by 20 percentage points two years ago.

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