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Booker seizes on Kavanaugh confirmation fight

Booker seizes on Kavanaugh confirmation fight
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Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Biden: ‘Totally legitimate’ to question age if he runs in 2020 MORE (D-N.J.), who has been drowned out by potential 2020 rivals for much of the year, is seizing on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to set himself apart from the crowd. 

Booker, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, knows he will be in the spotlight as the panel gets ready to grill Kavanaugh. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE’s second pick for the court could be a pivotal vote for years to come on abortion and other touchstone issues, meaning his confirmation hearings are likely to draw enormous attention and wall-to-wall cable news coverage. 

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Almost immediately after Trump made his pick official, Booker highlighted Kavanaugh’s arguments that a president shouldn't be subjected to criminal prosecution or civil litigation while in office —  a problem, the New Jersey senator said, given special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation. 

The senator argues that Kavanaugh could end up deciding issues related to the problem, such as whether Trump could be indicted as a sitting president, and argued that the pick was meant as protection for the White House.

“I don’t think this president could have chosen somebody that better protects him from a special counsel investigation,” he told TMZ earlier this week. 

He added that Kavanaugh was unique in terms of the 25 jurists on a list of potential nominees that was prepared by conservative groups. 

Kavanaugh served on independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s team during myriad investigations of former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Democratic Donald Trump is coming Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure Dershowitz: Obama, Ellison have 'special obligation' to condemn Farrakhan MORE. In a 2009 article, Kavanaugh said a president had too many responsibilities to be weighed down unnecessarily by a criminal investigation or a civil lawsuit. 

In the piece, the Supreme Court nominee said that he now thought he was mistaken to think during the 1990s that a president should bear the same responsibilities as normal citizens. 

“I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office,” he wrote.

He also recommended that Congress pass a law that would defer legal cases against the president until after his term is over.

While Kavanaugh stopped short of arguing that a sitting president has immunity from criminal prosecution or that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Booker has pounced on them. 

“It’s the only one of all the people on this list that specifically said a president should have immunity in these cases so this is like he chose somebody to try and protect himself from all the things that might arise from the investigation,” Booker told TMZ. 

Booker clearly sees the argument as a political winner, and other Democrats have also trumpeted the issue. 

“This is an opportunity for Senator Booker to gain an incredibly large national audience around this Supreme Court fight,” said Brigid Callahan Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. 

Callahan Harrison said she believes Booker recognizes that the criminal prosecution piece of the fight is “a galvanizing issue” that can set him apart from other 2020 would be rivals. 

“It’s valuable and smart to get out in front of this,” she said. “Making this argument will have a lot of resonance across the political spectrum…It’s the whole enchilada, if you will.” 

An aide to the senator said that Mueller’s investigation created a conflict of interest for Trump. Now that Trump has nominated someone with “a long documented history” arguing that a president shouldn’t be subjected to civil litigation or criminal investigation, “you bet we are going to raise alarm bells about it.” 

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. 

Booker has trailed some of his potential rivals in 2020 polls taken in recent months. 

A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll out last month showed Booker receiving 6 percent of those polled behind former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBooker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds Biden, Jackson receive Freedom Awards from National Civil Rights Museum The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE, who was backed by 32 percent. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Republicans cancel airtime in swing Vegas district The Democratic Donald Trump is coming MORE received 18 percent, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBooker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds The Democratic Donald Trump is coming Biden: Trump administration 'coddles autocrats and dictators' MORE (I-Vt.) got 16 percent and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Booker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds MORE (D-Mass.) won 10 percent. 

Booker will have an advantage over those other would-be candidates during the Kavanaugh hearings. He and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Booker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds Harris rolls out bill to create new middle class tax credit MORE (D-Calif.), another possible contender, both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharIs there a difference between good and bad online election targeting? Election Countdown: Minnesota Dems worry Ellison allegations could cost them key race | Dems struggle to mobilize Latino voters | Takeaways from Tennessee Senate debate | Poll puts Cruz up 9 in Texas Clusters of polio-like illness in the US not a cause for panic MORE (D-Minn.), who is also sometimes mentioned as a possible candidate for president, is another member of Judiciary. 

Harris elevated her name recognition in previous hearings with Trump appointees where she doggedly pressed for answers, most recently in questioning now-CIA Director Gina Haspel about the waterboarding. 

Alexandra Smith, the executive director of the Republican superPAC America Rising, accused Booker of simply playing politics with the issue. 

“This is pretty funny coming from a guy who said just yesterday that we needed to stop the partisan ‘bullshit,’” Smith said. “Cory said the president shouldn’t be allowed to name someone until the Mueller investigation was over. Now that the president has chosen an excellent jurist in Judge Kavanaugh, Cory has pivoted to arguments that are being scoffed at by fact checkers and liberals alike. Who’s playing politics now?” 

This week, as Democrats prepared to fight the nomination, Booker appeared at a news conference with Senate colleagues—including Harris. 

“I look forward to standing with my colleagues and all Americans in what will be the most important fight of our lifetimes,” he said. “There’ll be no greater.”