LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday he has touted fellow Kentuckian Amul Thapar to fill a looming vacancy on the Supreme Court, but acknowledged he has "no idea" who President Donald Trump will choose.
McConnell told reporters he has encouraged Trump to consider Thapar, and said he hopes the federal appeals court judge is "in the final group" as the president looks for a successor to retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Thapar is a former U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky. He has already been nominated once by Trump, for his current seat on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. McConnell has been a longtime supporter of Thapar, stretching back to the judge’s tenure as a federal prosecutor.
"I think he’s absolutely brilliant, with the right temperament," McConnell said of Thapar. "But others have their favorites. And I have no idea who the president may choose."
Trump has said he will announce his choice on July 9.
The president has promised to draw the next justice from a list of 25 prospective candidates that was first established during the 2016 presidential campaign and updated last fall, with advice from conservatives. Thapar’s name has come up among possible nominees being eyed.
In a speech Saturday to a GOP gathering in Louisville, McConnell said the goal is to have a new justice in place in time for the start of the Supreme Court’s next term in October. As majority leader, McConnell sets the schedule in the narrowly divided Senate.
"There’s not any doubt in my mind that we’ll be able to get this new nominee confirmed, and I’m confident the president is going to send up an all-star, somebody of very high quality," McConnell told reporters later.
McConnell predicted the nominee will be similar to Trump’s first Supreme Court selection, Neil Gorsuch, in terms of background and philosophy on the judiciary’s role.
The Kentucky Republican, who is already looking ahead to his next re-election campaign in 2020, touted the Senate’s fast pace of confirming Trump’s choices for seats throughout the federal judiciary. McConnell also trumpeted tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks pushed by Trump and the GOP Congress.
"If you prefer America right of center, this has been the best year and a half in 30 years because of this new Republican government," he said.
On another issue, McConnell told reporters he’s "pretty optimistic" that his proposal to legalize hemp will end up in the final version of the federal farm bill.
His proposal to bring back hemp as an agricultural commodity was in the Senate-passed version of the farm bill. The measure next goes to a House-Senate conference committee.
"Even though the House doesn’t have the hemp provisions in it, I’m pretty optimistic they’ll adopt the Senate provisions on legalization of hemp in the final product," he told reporters.
His proposal would remove hemp from the controlled substances list that currently associates the crop with its cousin – marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Kentucky has been at the forefront of hemp’s comeback. The versatile crop has been grown on an experimental basis in a number of states in recent years.
The crop was historically used for rope but has many other uses, including clothing and mulch from the fiber; hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds; in addition to soap and lotions. Other uses include building materials, animal bedding and biofuels.