New comments from Senator Dean Heller seem to imply the U.S. Supreme Court could have a vacancy as soon as this summer.
In a Q and A with the J. Reuben Clark Law Society in Las Vegas last week, Heller made a number of bold claims. Among them, a prediction that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire by early summer.
"That being the case, the Republicans are going to have an opportunity to put another supreme court justice in place, which I'm hoping will get our base motivated because right now they're not motivated."
Another GOP appointment to the Supreme Court might provide Heller an edge in his reelection bid this year. However, Justice Kennedy has already hired four clerks for the October 2018 term — a sign the 81-year-old jurist may not be ready to leave the bench just yet.
The audio of the closed-door event was obtained and first reported on by Politico, and it includes a number of moments in which the one-time Trump critic Heller took to defending the president.
"I'm literally not going to stand up here and knock the guy, because this guy has an unusual way of doing things, and right now they're working," Heller said when asked of the president's wavering position on gun control. "This guy's a negotiator, he claims to be a negotiator, I'm not going to knock him until I know what the results are."
Heller's seat has been marked as one of the GOP's most vulnerable nationwide. A January tracking poll from Morning Consult put Heller's net approval at just +2, nine points below where he stood at the start of 2017, and a 39 percent disapproval mark makes him the 11th most unpopular senator in the country.
It makes the 2018 election an uphill battle for Heller, who must secure a win in one of the only competitive purple states won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
His first challenge will be against perennial GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian in this year's June primaries. Tarkanian, a staunch Trump supporter, has been highly critical of Heller, who he calls pejoratively "D.C. Dean."
The winner of that primary could face off against Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who represents Nevada's 3rd congressional district in Clark County. Rosen — at the time a political novice — defeated Tarkanian by a slim one-point margin in 2016 to win that congressional seat.
Jacob Solis is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism.