Exclusive: Trump raised the prospect in summer 2018, according to The Hill to Die On, but it was not clear how serious he was
In the midst of a damagingly dysfunctional relationship with Republicans who controlled Congress in his first two years in office, Donald Trump pondered nominating Merrick Garland to the supreme court seat now filled by Brett Kavanaugh.
A political moderate, Garland was picked by former president Barack Obama to fill the vacancy created by the death of the arch-conservative Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Citing contested precedent but exercising brute political power, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, refused even to consider the nomination.
The startling revelation that Trump mused on bringing Garland back is contained in a new book by the Politico reporters Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer. The Guardian obtained a copy of The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trumps America, which will be published next week.
Drawing on interviews with the president and a huge range of senior Republican and Democratic sources who agreed to go on the record, Sherman and Palmer unearth the Garland story and other telling moments, including a sample of ripe advice that the late senator John McCain had for Trumps son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
They write that in summer 2018, at various points during Trumps internal deliberations about whom to nominate to the bench, the president privately raised the prospect of tapping Merrick Garland the very man McConnell had blocked from even getting a hearing.
The authors write that it is not clear how serious Trump was. They do, however, repeatedly report frustration among Republicans over Trumps eagerness to work with Democrats. It was reported at the time that the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, asked Trump to consider Garland.
When McConnell was informed of Trumps thoughts months later, Sherman and Palmer write, he let out a belly laugh and said, That wouldve been a tough sell.
The Kentuckian an inscrutable operator not normally given to belly laughs, at least in public has named his stand on Garland as one of his proudest moments. Having filled Scalias seat with Neil Gorsuch, a conservative, Trump duly installed Kavanaugh when Anthony Kennedy retired, tilting the court firmly to the right.
The website Axios reported this week Trump is planning for a third supreme court pick, should the seat filled by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 86, fall vacant.
Among The Hill to Die Ons numerous other instances of Republican dysfunction are repeated clashes between Trump and Paul Ryan, the House speaker until the Democrats took the lower chamber in last years midterm elections. The House Freedom Caucus, a group of hard-right Trump supporters, plays a prominent role in the running dispute.
In one contentious meeting after the inauguration, Florida congressman Bill Posey told Trump to quit the tweets and whining about crowd size, the authors write.
Trumps reply was: Who the fuck are you?
Among mainstream Republicans, discomfort with Trump is shown to be rife. In a September 2017 meeting with the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and then White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, the New York representative Lee Zeldin is quoted as saying: When the president undermines our unanimously elected speaker, it pisses everyone in this room off.
The remark, the authors write, was greeted with very loud cheers.
The book may also embarrass Jared Kushner, the presidents son-in-law and adviser who was bruised only last month by the publication of Kushner, Inc, an expos by the journalist Vicky Ward. In The Hill to Die On, Kushner is portrayed as a political novice with a much-mocked sense of his own ability as a negotiator and problem-solver.
Before the 2016 election, Kushner is said to have given aides to Ryan the impression he thought he could single-handedly rewrite Congresss 200-year-old rules. More than two years later, during the 2018-19 government shutdown that ended in damaging defeat for Trump, Kushner is reported to have said he would bring a businessmans mindset to talks. The shutdown ended when Trump folded.
Sherman and Palmer also recount a White House conversation between Trump and John McCain about a subject close to the Arizona senators heart: military procurement reform.
Kushner is quoted as saying without a hint of irony that McCain should not worry, because were going to change the way the entire government works.
According to the authors, McCain responded: Good luck, son.
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