This week: Senators return to mourn McCain
This week: Democrats pledge ‘sparks’ in Kavanaugh hearing
Senators are bracing for a days-long high-profile battle over Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination.
The televised hearing starting Tuesday will mark the Senate's most partisan fight so far this year. Kavanaugh, 53, if confirmed, is expected to tilt the Supreme Court to the right for decades by giving conservatives a fifth vote on a slate of controversial issues.
"Sparks will fly at this hearing. There will be sparks. There will be a lot of heat," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters during a conference call.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its days-long hearing on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. On the first day, Kavanaugh and members - including Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member - will give their opening statements.
Kavanaugh is expected to face up to two days of grilling by members of the committee, which includes members of Democratic leadership and 2020 White House hopefuls.
Democrats can't stop Kavanaugh from being confirmed on their own. Republicans hold a slim majority and nominations only need a simple majority to be confirmed after Republicans nixed the filibuster last year to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first Supreme Court nominee.
But they're facing intense pressure from progressives and outside groups to hammer Kavanaugh on key issues like abortion and executive authority, as well as the decision by the Trump administration to withhold more than 100,000 documents from Kavanaugh's time as a White House lawyer.
Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Demand Justice and former aide for Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), questioned why Democrats on the Judiciary Committee aren't boycotting the hearing.
"I will answer my own question: the senior Democrats on the committee are out of touch, and willing to make themselves a party to a charade rather than take a tough stand," he said in a tweet.
Activists have hammered Democratic leadership who they feel haven't done enough to unify the caucus against Kavanaugh and pressure vulnerable red-state incumbents, widely considered swing votes, to oppose him.
"It is like leaders in the Senate may not understand the stakes of this ... when it comes to the political reality of the Senate and the political reality of 2018," said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America.
Democratic lawmakers are furious after the Trump administration decided to use constitutional privilege to keep a legal team for former President George W. Bush from handing over more than 100,000 pages from Kavanaugh's White House tenure.
"The White House and the Department of Justice have identified certain documents of the type traditionally protected by constitutional privilege. The White House, after consultation with the Department of Justice, has directed that we not provide these documents for this reason," Bill Burck, Bush's lawyer, wrote in a letter to Grassley last week.
Republicans have brushed off the decision, arguing that Democrats have already decided they will oppose Kavanaugh.
Republicans on the committee have spoken favorably of Kavanaugh. Several helped him prepare for the confirmation hearing and argued their job was to help deflect Democratic attacks.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) added there are questions he can ask to "help" Kavanaugh.
"I don't have a lot of questions of him but I expect there will be a lot of things that come up that need to be corrected," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the committee.
Asked if saw himself as a counterweight to Democrats, Cornyn added that he wanted to "make sure the truth gets told."
Congress is returning to Washington with only weeks to prevent a third shutdown of the year.
Lawmakers have until Sept. 30 to pass legislation funding the government past the end of the month.
The Senate, which canceled part of his August recess, has passed nine of the 12 appropriations bills. But lawmakers have yet to get a deal on any of the packages passed by either chambers.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that lawmakers had been in talks during the House's August break but hasn't "resolved anything."
"We need the House to get back where we can start talking to each other personally," he said when asked about getting the bills conferenced by the deadline. "That's our goal. We've got a month. If the House cooperates, we can work together."
GOP leadership has indicated that they want to punt funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until after the November election, allowing them to avoid an explosive fight over funding for President Trump's border wall months before the midterms.
To circumvent the issue and avoid a politically risky shutdown just one month ahead of November's election, lawmakers are separating DHS funding from spending for the rest of the government.
Both chambers are far apart though on their numbers. The Senate's DHS bill includes $1.6 billion for border barriers, while the House bill includes $5 billion.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said a recent trip to the border underscored the need for a "wall system" and that lawmakers are now in "heavy talks" about how much money to include.
"Right now, technically we have $1.6 billion in our bill. ...[Trump's] now asking for $5 billion this year," Capito told a West Virginia radio station last week. "We're trying to find the money, that's not easy."
The House is expected to vote to go to conference this week on Defense Department funding and could potentially take up a conference report on funding for a bill funding energy and water, legislative branch, and military construction and veterans affairs.
The Senate will return on Tuesday to vote on Elad Roisman's nomination to be a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Senate leadership has gotten a deal to take up eight judicial nominations, though the timing of the votes hasn't been locked down.
Under the deal, the Senate will vote this week on Marilyn Horan to be a judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania, William Jung to be a judge for the Middle District of Florida, Kari Dooley to be a judge for the District of Connecticut, Dominic Lanza to be a judge for the District of Arizona, Charles Williams to be a judge for the Northern District of Iowa, Robert Summerhays to be a judge for the Western District of Louisiana, Eric Tostrud to be a judge for the District of Minnesota and Alan Albright for the Western District of Texas.
The House is slated to vote on the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill Act on Tuesday.
The measure is aimed at eliminating duties on imported raw materials used for production that aren't easily accessible in the U.S.
The measure passed the House in January, but was amended and passed the Senate in late July.
The House is also set to vote on the motion to go to conference on the Department of Defense Appropriations Act and a Democratic motion to instruct conferees on Tuesday.
- Juliegrace Brufke contributed