President Trump praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as “a very special guy” and “a great man” at a rally in North Dakota Wednesday evening before imploring GOP voters to keep the Senate in Republican hands this coming November.
Trump told the crowd of approximately 6,000 people at Scheels Arena that he was “very honored” that Kennedy chose to retire while Trump was in office because “he felt confident in me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy.”
Heading to North Dakota to fully stand with and endorse Kevin Cramer for Senate. He is an extraordinary Congressman who will hopefully soon represent this great state as your Senator. He is tough on crime, strong on borders, loves our Military, and our Vets! #NDSen https://t.co/uP95m0sIRP
Trump did not indicate who he would nominate to replace the 82-year-old Kennedy, but said he hoped his pick would serve on the Supreme Court for “40 years, 45 years.”
Trump was in Fargo to endorse U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Republicans see Heitkamp’s seat as a key pickup opportunity in their battle to keep the Senate in GOP hands.
“Justice Kennedy’s retirement makes the issue of Senate control one of the vital issues of our time,” Trump said. “It’s the most important thing we can do … We must elect more Republicans. We have to do that. And the problem is, in the Senate, we have 51. We don’t have enough.”
Trump had once courted Heitkamp, even inviting her to New York to discuss a Cabinet post soon after his 2016 election victory.
But on Wednesday, the president accused Heitkamp of voting lockstep with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. He cited Heitkamp’s votes against tax reform, against ObamaCare repeal and support for so-called “sanctuary cities.”
“You need a senator who doesn’t just talk like they’re from North Dakota, but votes like they’re from North Dakota,” said Trump, who added of Cramer: “He loves you, I will tell you that. He loves this state, loves the people. And we need Kevin Cramer to replace liberal Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.”
When called up to speak, Cramer praised Trump for moving to roll back Obama-era energy regulation, signing tax reform legislation and “standing for life.”
“And on these very important North Dakota values … I’ll always be with them and with you, 100 percent of the time,” Cramer said.
The relationship between Cramer and the White House didn’t always have a smiling public face. Last month, Cramer made clear that he was less than happy with Trump’s friendly treatment of Heitkamp — including her front-row appearance when Trump signed a banking bill.
The president is riding a winning streak with his endorsements. On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster survived a Republican runoff election one day after Trump held a rally in the state to support him. Also on Tuesday, Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., easily defeated former Rep. Michael Grimm in a GOP primary and former Trump adversary Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination to be Utah’s next U.S. senator.
Trump visits North Dakota as new economic data show the state falling behind its Midwestern neighbors amid concerns about an escalating trade war with China. North Dakota’s agricultural economy is dependent on exports and the Beijing government recently imposed a 25 percent tariff on soybeans, the state’s top crop.
This is a developing story; check back for more updates. The Associated Press contributed to this report.