Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing 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 TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' 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.
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 (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 ClintonRepublican spin on Biden is off the mark Bill Clinton shares video update after release from hospital Biden, Democrats risk everything unless they follow the Clinton pivot (they won't) 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 BidenJoe BidenRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Dems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Six big off-year elections you might be missing MORE, who was backed by 32 percent. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSuper PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary MORE received 18 percent, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRepublican spin on Biden is off the mark Sanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'It's not coming out' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden must keep progressive promises or risk losing midterms MORE (I-Vt.) got 16 percent and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Six big off-year elections you might be missing Republican spin on Biden is off the mark 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 HarrisObama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe Kamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech Biden's safe-space CNN town hall attracts small audience, as poll numbers plummet MORE (D-Calif.), another possible contender, both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGOP blocks Senate Democrats' revised elections bill Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Biden holds meetings to resurrect his spending plan 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.”