The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Red-state Democrats turn down White House invitation to Supreme Court announcement

Thanks, but no thanks.

That was the message Monday from a quartet of red-state Democratic senators after the White House invited them to the East Room for President Trump’s unveiling of his Supreme Court nominee. The much-anticipated announcement is scheduled for 9 p.m. Monday night.

Three of the lawmakers — Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — face tough reelection bids this November. All three voted last year to confirm Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil M. Gorsuch, and the White House invited them to meet with Trump last month to discuss the latest opening on the court.

Manchin sent his regrets via tweet, saying that while he was grateful for the White House invitation, he looks forward to meeting Trump’s nominee “in a setting where we can discuss his or her experience, judicial philosophy & perspective on access to healthcare for [West Virginians] with pre-existing conditions.”

Donnelly sounded a similar note. “While I appreciate the invitation from the White House to attend this evening’s announcement, I declined so that I can meet first with the nominee in a setting where we can discuss his or her experience and perspectives,” he said in a statement, adding that he will be examining the nominee’s record and qualifications over the coming days.

One of the judges on Trump’s shortlist, Amy Coney Barrett, serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Donnelly’s home state of Indiana — a factor that could make the lawmaker more likely to vote in favor should Barrett be the nominee.

A spokesman for Heitkamp said that the North Dakota senator “was invited but isn’t able to attend tonight.”

“She has made clear — as she said to the president in person two weeks ago — that she considers fully vetting Supreme Court nominees one of the most important jobs of any U.S. senator, and she plans to fulfill that critical duty,” the spokesman said.

The fourth red-state Democrat, Doug Jones of Alabama, doesn’t face reelection until 2020. But as the first Democrat to represent his state in the Senate since 1992, Jones, who defeated scandal-plagued Republican nominee Roy Moore in a special election in December, is expected to come under considerable pressure in the Supreme Court battle.

In a 2017 interview with The Washington Post, Jones said he might have opposed Gorsuch’s nomination had he been a senator at the time.

Jones, who declined the White House’s invitation Monday, took a cautious approach to the latest Supreme Court battle. He said Sunday on CNN that he is “concerned about this nomination” but cautioned that it was too early to say how he planned to vote.

“I don’t want to see things change radically, and I think there are some legitimate concerns,” Jones said. “That’s what I’m going to look at. That doesn’t mean I’m going to vote ‘yes.’ It doesn’t mean I’m going to vote ‘no.’ I think it’s premature to say automatically — I’m not going to say automatically that I’m going to vote against any nominee that Donald Trump put out there. That’s just not my role.”

At least one other Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), received an invitation from the White House on Monday afternoon. But Feinstein, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also declined to attend, according to her spokeswoman, Ashley Schapitl.

Paul Kane and David Weigel contributed to this report.