Kochs Gear Up To Back Trump In Supreme Court Battle
PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. — Charles Koch’s Seminar Network is prepared to launch digital ads and knock on doors in blue-leaning Trump-voting states in support of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, a number of Koch network lieutenants told reporters Sunday evening. “Everything is on the table,” Americans for Prosperity chief government affairs officer Brent Gardner said.
Left-leaning states won by Trump will be a focus, particularly those with senators who are up for re-election in 2018. “A number of those folks are going to be necessary to the [60-vote] threshold required for confirmation,” Gardner said. Despite former President Barack Obama’s inability to gain traction for his Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, the Koch representatives are confident the issue is important to activists and voters.
The plan is new so details are not concrete, but senators Americans for Prosperity (AFP) will target will depend on how senators vote, they said. As for vulnerability, “November broadened the map,” AFP Chief Operating Officer Sean Langsing said, listing Wisconsin, Montana, Michigan and New Hampshire as examples of states more in play for libertarian politics.
Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett, who won re-election in 2016, is another potential target for pressure, despite not being up for six years. Bennett has said that he would oppose the nomination of 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch, a top contender for the nomination, AFP Director of Policy Akash Chougule said.
Held twice a year, the weekend meeting is a gathering place for the Seminar Network, a large group of wealthy donors interested in libertarian and conservative causes. The weekend’s seminar, held in the temperate desert outside of Los Angeles, was the first since Trump’s election and inauguration.
The network spent hundreds of millions on advertising and advocacy for limited-government politicians — namely, Republicans — running for the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, but notably stayed out of the presidential primaries and race. (RELATED: As Trump Presidency Dawns, Kochs Plan To Bring Hundreds Of Millions To Bear On Next Two Years)
And after scaling back early projections on their spending during the 2015-2016 cycle, the Seminar Network intends to ramp up spending on work to build grassroots networks and impact U.S. policy. That spending is expected to rise from the $250 million in the 2015-2016 cycle, to an estimated $300-400 million in the 2017-2018 cycle. (RELATED: Kochs Come Out Against Trump Travel Ban)
Despite a socially liberal trend in the donor network, Freedom Partners Vice President of Policy Andy Koenig said the they support a judge in the mold of the late Judge Antonin Scalia, a socially conservative strict constitutional constructionist whose seat has remained empty since he died unexpectedly in 2016.
At a Saturday night dinner kicking off the two-day seminar, Republican Sen. Mike Lee told gathered donors that Trump’s eventual nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court is going to be confirmed by the Senate. (RELATED: Mike Lee Is Certain The Senate Will Confirm Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee)
“It’s a fantastic list,” he said of the names floated as in the running for Trump’s nomination. “I’m very confident that whoever the president nominates is going to get confirmed…. I can tell you this: At the end of the day, any one of the people that President Trump is looking at will be confirmed by the Senate — we will make sure of that.”
Sen. James Lankford, who spoke alongside Lee, included confirming a Supreme Court justice among actions the Senate can take without 60 votes, implying that Republicans would use “the nuclear option” to pass their choice and would not need outside support. Seminar Network representatives declined to weigh in on the pros or cons of this strategy.
“We don’t want someone who is going to be legislating from the bench,” Seminar Network James Davis said. “We want someone who cares about the Bill of Rights.”
The Seminar Network is co-chaired by Charles Koch Institute President Brian Hooks and Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries. Called “A Time to Lead,” the meeting was hosted at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa, and is focused on local, grassroots initiatives Americans can take in what Hooks called “the key institutions of society”– “education, community, business and government.” (RELATED: Charles Koch Calls For Action: ‘We Might Not Have An Opportunity Again Like We Have Today’)
There are around 550 individuals included in the “principals” network meeting, which requires at least $100,000 donation to the network. In addition to these invited people, there were approximately 150 staff and speakers, Seminar Network spokesman James David told reporters. There was also a larger press presence than any previous conference has allowed.
Other elected officials in attendance included Republican Sens. Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey and David Perdue, as well as Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Marsha Blackburn. All elected officials attending the seminar were Republicans.
Editor’s Note: Christopher Bedford was a fellow at the Charles Koch Institute in 2010.