Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick

Democrats went on the attack Tuesday against President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE’s new pick for the Supreme Court, but acknowledged they are unlikely to win the war. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-N.Y.) has focused his party’s offensive on the risks that a conservative court could pose to abortion rights and affordable health care, while other Democrats labeled Brett Kavanaugh an “extreme” pick whom Trump was motivated to nominate as protection from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s Russia probe.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Overnight Defense: Washington reeling from Trump, Putin press conference Feehery: The long game MORE (R-Ky.) defended Kavanaugh as thoroughly qualified and deserving confirmation.

“Judge Kavanaugh possesses an impressive résumé, an outstanding legal mind and an exemplary judicial temperament,” he said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (R-Iowa) said he expects Kavanaugh to receive a vote on the floor 65 to 70 days from now, in keeping with recent Senate precedent, and for his panel to hold confirmation hearings around Labor Day.

Democrats are calling for more time, citing the millions of documents they need to review from Kavanaugh’s time as White House staff secretary under former George W. Bush and his 12-year record on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

But Grassley says he’s not going to deviate much from the timeline used for Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first nominee.

A handful of Democrats and Republicans are potential swing votes and are coming under heavy pressure from both sides. It’s a much harder decision for Democrats facing reelection in states that Trump carried by large margins in 2016, reflected by their dogged efforts to dodge reporters’ questions on Tuesday.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillSenate Dems lock in million in TV airtime Why does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight? Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote MORE (D-Mo.) kept her cellphone glued to her ear whenever she walked through public hallways, making it impossible for journalists to ask her about Kavanaugh’s record.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate Dems rip Trump after Putin news conference Senate Dems lock in million in TV airtime Doug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee MORE (D-Fla.) pleaded that he was losing his voice and urged one reporter for The New York Times to “look at my statement.”

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-N.D.) bolted from the Capitol out of the first floor exit instead of taking the Senate subway, where most reporters camp out.

The Judicial Crisis Network announced Monday evening that it would launch a $1.4 million cable and digital ad campaign to pressure Democrats in the red states of Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia to back the nominee.

Senate Democrats admitted it will be difficult to defeat Kavanaugh with only 49 seats in their caucus, but their goal is to inflict as much political damage on the GOP as possible ahead of the November midterm elections.

“We have to lower the expectations of our base. We can’t defeat the nominee on our own,” said a Democratic senator who requested anonymity to discuss internal party deliberations. 

“If they keep all their votes together, there’s nothing we can do,” a Senate Democratic aide said of the Republican leadership’s effort to keep its conference unified.

The aide also noted that Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Alaska) have been careful to “sound positive” about Kavanaugh but have emphasized it’s still early in the process.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin Sunday shows preview: Washington braces for Trump's Supreme Court pick America stands to lose as China places bets on developing world MORE (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said if Republicans stick together, the chances of defeating Kavanaugh are “very low.”

But he says that could change as the committee begins to dig more deeply into his record and a “range of Republicans will feel pressure from their states” to oppose the nominee.

Democratic leaders see the rising cost of health care as one of their best campaign issues heading into the midterms and want to play it up by warning the Supreme Court could threaten protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Their goal is to keep the Senate Democratic Caucus unified as long as possible in hopes of putting more pressure on Republican swing votes.

That’s a big reason why Schumer is making Kavanaugh’s past criticism of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) one of his top arguments for defeating him.

“Judge Kavanaugh has argued that the Supreme Court should question the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “He openly criticized the Supreme Court when they upheld the law. He’s no neutral arbiter.”

Democratic leaders believe the focus on health-care affordability is the best way to keep red-state moderates from defecting.

The strategy appears to be having an influence on one key swing vote: Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMorrisey accuses Manchin of 'lying' to Trump, attacks ‘liberal’ record The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Doug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee MORE (D) of West Virginia, a state Trump carried by 42 points and who is a big GOP target this fall. 

Manchin says he’s concerned how Kavanaugh may rule on federal protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, a pillar of the ACA.

“The Supreme Court will ultimately decide if nearly 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions will lose their healthcare. This decision will directly impact almost 40 percent of my state, so I’m very interested in his position on protecting West Virginians with pre-existing conditions,” Manchin said in a statement.

Manchin, along with Heitkamp and Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Overnight Health Care: Official defends suspending insurer payments | What Kavanaugh's nomination means for ObamaCare | Panel approves bill to halt employer mandate MORE (D-Ind.), all backed Gorsuch last year. 

Four Democrats in 2006 supported Kavanaugh’s nomination to his current post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperNew EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Overnight Energy: New EPA head looks to reassure staff | New round of ex-Pruitt staffers leave | House votes to overhaul fisheries law | Trump rips Germany for pipeline deal with Russia Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE (Del.) and former Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuFormer New Orleans mayor: It's not my 'intention' to run for president Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick Landrieu dynasty faces a pause in Louisiana MORE (La.) and Robert Byrd (W.Va.).

Democrats this week have attacked Kavanaugh on many fronts, criticizing him as someone who would be overly deferential to Trump’s presidential powers and hostile to gun control measures.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families California Dems endorse progressive challenger over Feinstein MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized Kavanaugh for ruling in a 2011 case that the Second Amendment established a right to own semi-automatic firearms.

“He argued in 2011 against Washington, D.C.’s ban because weapons like AR-15s are in ‘common use,’ ” she noted.

Schumer has vowed to the party’s liberal base that he will do everything he can to stop Kavanaugh, but to be successful he needs to convince at least one Republican to cross the aisle.

Their two most likely prospects are Collins and Murkowski, who support abortion rights. Both lawmakers opposed efforts by GOP leaders last year to defund Planned Parenthood, a major provider of family-planning services in their states.

Yet, Republicans appear confident they will be united on Kavanaugh. 

On Tuesday, The Boston Globe cast doubt on Collins breaking with the GOP by publishing an analysis that she has voted for judicial nominees put forward by Republican presidents nearly 99 percent of the time. The media outlet reviewed more than 500 of her votes on nominees for the Supreme Court, circuit courts of appeal, district courts and other judicial appointments. 

Democrats on Tuesday began building a case against Kavanaugh that he cannot be trusted to uphold Roe v. Wade or defend reproductive rights in general. They zeroed in on Kavanaugh’s rulings in favor of the Department of Health and Human Services after it prevented an unaccompanied pregnant teenager who was detained crossing the Texas border from visiting an abortion clinic.

Kavanaugh wrote in a dissenting opinion to Garza v. Hargan that “the government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor and refraining from facilitating abortion.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTop Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families Jane Fonda: Kavanaugh confirmation would be a 'catastrophe' MORE (Wash.), the highest-ranking woman in the Democratic leadership, warned that “a vote for President Trump’s Judge Kavanaugh is a vote to go back to the days when women had to go into back alleys for health care.”

That tough rhetoric could boomerang and spark awkwardness in the caucus if red-state Democrats end up voting for Kavanaugh. 

But the abortion-focused tactics do not appear to be moving Collins or Murkowski, who on Tuesday said they would keep an open mind about the nominee.

“I think the judge has impressive credentials,” Collins said. “I obviously want the opportunity to sit down with him one-on-one and to get a better sense of his judicial philosophy.” 

Murkowski said she would not make any quick decisions.

“There’s a lot to look at with Judge Kavanaugh,” she said. “I’m going to be able to give you more of a reaction after I’ve had an opportunity for more thorough review.”

Collins and Murkowski did not voice any concerns or opposition when the GOP conference discussed Kavanaugh with Vice President Pence at a private lunch Tuesday, according to a lawmaker who attended the meeting.

The GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity predicted that both moderates will end up voting for Kavanaugh. 

Another potential Republican swing vote is libertarian Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLewandowski: Trump-Putin meeting advances goal of world peace Rand Paul to travel to Russia after downplaying election meddling Implementation of a 'universal basic income' program would be a disaster MORE (R-Ky.), who has privately expressed concern about what he sees as Kavanaugh’s weak position on Fourth Amendment–related privacy issues.

Paul on Tuesday said, “I’m keeping an open mind, and we’ll follow the process.”

Schumer says that Democrats will also emphasize Kavanaugh’s expressions of support for broad presidential authorities, such as his 2009 article in the Minnesota Law Review arguing that sitting presidents should not be subject to criminal investigations and civil lawsuits while in office. 

“He is almost certainly the one who would most yield to presidential power, to say that if a president deems a law unconstitutional he doesn’t have to obey it,” Schumer said. “That’s dangerous at any time, but it’s particularly dangerous when Donald Trump is president.”

Jordain Carney contributed.