Today on the Hill: Kennedy Retirement Shocks Washington, Setting Up Fierce Senate Confirmation Battle

While eyes were on the House immigration vote yesterday, a bombshell came out of the Supreme Court as Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would be retiring effective July 31. The 81 year old has been the Court’s most important figure in recent years, acting as the critical swing vote in 5-4 decisions on some of the Court’s most consequential cases, including same-sex marriage, campaign finance, and abortion protections. Given his importance to the Court’s work — many legal observers believe he is the most powerful man in American politics — the debate over his replacement is sure to be fraught in the White House and in the halls of Congress. President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have both indicated that they will try to confirm a new justice before this fall’s midterm elections, despite calls from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to delay the confirmation process in order to give voters a voice in the decision – a logic that McConnell used in blocking the consideration of Merrick Garland after Justice Antonin Scalia died in early 2016. In any case, the back-and-forth over filling Kennedy’s seat is sure to be a dominant narrative in the coming weeks.

After its immigration bill sank dramatically in a 121-301 vote yesterday, the House is looking to wrap up work on defense appropriations before breaking for the July 4th recess. A final vote on the package (H.R. 6157) is expected around noon, along with votes on a Motion to Go to Conference on the Energy and Water appropriations minibus (H.R. 5895) and a resolution (H. Res. 970) that would insist that the Department of Justice fully comply with congressional subpoenas.

Meanwhile, the Senate will continue its work on the farm bill. Leader McConnell filed cloture on a substitute amendment and the underlying bill last night, with roll call votes expected later today. The bipartisan nutrition and agriculture package is attracting ride-along proposals on issues such as congressional approval of tariffs, but thus far it as avoided any “poison pills” that would endanger the bill’s passage.