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Kavanaugh has 'productive' meeting with key swing votes

Kavanaugh has 'productive' meeting with key swing votes
© Anna Moneymaker

Brett Kavanaugh met on Wednesday with Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEverybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big MORE (Ind.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCentrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Harrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports MORE (N.D.), two senators at the center of the multi-million dollar Supreme Court fight.

The two senators gave no indication after the meetings of whether they will support President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE’s Supreme Court nominee.

Donnelly called their roughly 90-minute closed-door talk “wide-ranging” and “productive.”

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“This was an important opportunity to sit down and talk in-depth with Judge Kavanaugh about: his record; experience working in the Bush Administration and serving on the federal bench; and views on the role of the Supreme Court as well as on a range of issues including precedent, health care, and judicial independence,” Donnelly said in a statement.

Heitkamp added separately that she had a "thorough and substantive discussion" with Kavanaugh.

They discussed the "importance of the rule of law, precedent, ethical standards at the U.S. Supreme Court, reaching more consensus on the Court, and avoiding activism from the bench so the Court is shielded from politics," Heitkamp said. 

She said they also discussed his judicial record and temperament.

Donnelly and Heitkamp are the second and third Democrats to meet with Kavanaugh. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMurkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden On The Money: Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief | Relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority | Senate confirms Biden's picks for Commerce, top WH economist Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE (D-W.V.) become the first Democrat to meet with Kavanaugh late last month.

The three Democrats voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch last year and are up for re-election in states won by Trump.

They're widely viewed as the three Democratic senators most likely to support Kavanaugh's nomination though they've all said they will remain on the fence until after Kavanaugh's hearing next month

Unlike their GOP counterparts, Democrats have tried to keep a low profile on their meetings with Kavanaugh. 

Neither Heitkamp, Manchin or Donnelly allowed photographers into the start of their meetings where they could have snapped a photo of the senators with Trump's nominee. The senators also did not set up time to speak with reporters before or after the meetings. 

The red-state Democrats are under enormous pressure from groups on both sides of the aisle. 

Republicans warn that they will face blowback from independent voters in their home states if they oppose Kavanaugh and are spending millions to try to sway them to support Trump's Supreme Court pick. 

"Will they be the independent-minded senators they claim to be, or the Schumer lackeys their constituents fear they are? None of these senators can afford to ignore polling showing clear support for Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation in their states," Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, said in a statement Wednesday

But Democrats and their progressive outside group allies view the three senators as crucial to any chance they have of blocking Kavanaugh's nomination. 

Democrats can't block Kavanaugh on their own, but they hope that they can keep Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly on the fence long enough to pressure GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOn The Money: Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief | Relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority | Senate confirms Biden's picks for Commerce, top WH economist Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Senate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill MORE (Maine) or Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Senate GOP whip: Murkowski's vote on Tanden is 'fluid' at the moment MORE (Alaska) into opposing him. 

"If we lose a Heitkamp, Manchin or Donnelly, you know, there goes the ball game. It seems very unlikely at that point that any Republican is going to break ranks with their sides," said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America.

It's a strategy Democrats have struggled with in recent nomination fights. On both Mike PompeoMike PompeoChina plays the Trump card, but Biden is not buying it Trump: 'I can't imagine' any Republican would beat me in 2024 primary if I run Green New Deal's 3 billion ton problem: sourcing technology metals MORE's secretary of State nomination and Gina Haspel's CIA nomination, a Democrat announced they would back Trump's pick while some Republicans were still publicly undecided. 

But progressives are cautioning that such a move on Kavanaugh's nomination would be a strategic misstep for red-state Democrats, who need the party's voters to turn out for them in November. 

"At that point, they've completely conceded the fight," said Shaunna Thomas, the executive director of liberal organization, UltraViolet.