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Trump says he likely won't ask Supreme Court candidates about Roe v. Wade

President Donald Trump, left, and Supreme Court Justice

President Donald Trump, left, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy at the White House on April 10, 2017. Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster

President Donald Trump, in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday, said he will “probably not” ask his potential Supreme Court nominees their opinions on the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions in 1973, despite his top contenders hailing from a list compiled by a conservative organization opposed to abortions.

Trump, in a pretaped interview, told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo he was advised against asking potential nominees narrow questions on specific court decisions as he weighs a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement Wednesday.

“I don’t think I’ll be so specific on the questions I’ll be asking,” said Trump, who has previously announced he will name his pick on July 9.

Trump is considering nominees from a list of 25 contenders screened and approved by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that has long opposed Roe v. Wade. As a presidential candidate, Trump stated his intent to put “anti-abortion justices on the court,” when asked during a presidential debate whether he wanted the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen,” Trump said during an October 2016 presidential debate. “And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting anti-abortion justices on the court.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who has often opposed legislation supported by Trump, said on CNN’s “State of The Union” that she wants the president to “broaden his list” beyond the 25 potential picks circulated by the White House. Collins said she was not comfortable with all of the candidates on the list.

“I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade, because that would mean to me their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law,” Collins said of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling.

Asked by Bartiromo if his replacement would be modeled after Kennedy, 81, a conservative appointed by Ronald Reagan who sided with the court’s liberal judges in several key cases, Trump said: “Maybe so.”

“Justice Kennedy ended up being a little more neutral than a lot of people would have preferred,” Trump said.

Speculation about the president’s selection reverberated on the Sunday morning talk show circuit.

Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, who is advising Trump on the nomination, said on “Fox News Sunday” that “Roe v. Wade is a very major precedent in America. And for ... years, people have been talking about it being overturned.”

“I don’t think at the end of the day, it’s about Roe v. Wade. It’s about having judges on the court who are going to interpret the Constitution the way it’s written,” Leo said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” said, “I’m not going to vote for anybody that tells me they’re going to decide a case before the facts are presented to them.” But Graham praised the list.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said on “Meet The Press” that unlike in 2017, when Trump picked Neil Gorsuch to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, “This is a very different Supreme Court discussion, because everyone in the United States Senate who’s going to vote on this knows that it will change the balance of power. So you’re not just voting on whether you think Trump should have his nominee, you’re voting on whether that nominee is going to change precedent when it comes to a whole host of issues.”

Also Sunday, Trump used the Fox News interview to defend his trade policies. The president has come under criticism from U.S. allies now facing a series of new tariffs on steel and aluminum, and from business groups who argue an escalating global trade war will increase production costs.

When asked if he should be “calling out” private companies such as Harley Davidson, the motorcycle manufacturer, which announced last week it was shipping some of its production overseas in response to Trump’s tariffs, the president said, “Yes, I should.”

“I think that Harley is an American bike, it’s an American motorcycle and they shouldn’t play cute,” said Trump, who criticized the company on his Twitter account last week.

Trump said “the European Union is possibly as bad as China, just smaller,” referring to previous trade deals reached with the coalition of European countries long regarded as U.S. allies. He added that he will likely wait until after November’s midterm election to sign a new North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

“NAFTA, I could sign it tomorrow, but I’m not happy with it. I want to make it more fair, OK?” Trump said.

Asked what he could do to bring the country together amid growing political polarization, Trump said: “There’s probably never been a base in the history of politics in this country like my base. I hope the other side realizes that they better just take it easy.”

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