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The Hill’s Morning Report — Battle lines drawn: Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight gets under way

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President Trump nominated District of Columbia Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh, 53, to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on Monday, igniting a vicious election year confirmation battle in the Senate that could tip the Supreme Court in favor of conservatives for a generation.

Trump appeared reserved and reflective as he announced Kavanaugh’s nomination from the East Room of the White House, where he noted that Supreme Court appointments are among a president’s most solemn and consequential duties.

Then he got down to the business of politics.

            “He deserves a swift confirmation and robust bipartisan support.” – Trump.

 Kavanaugh has spent 12 years on the federal bench and has written nearly 300 opinions, which he’ll have to defend in meetings with senators on Capitol Hill beginning today. His time in the White House was spent in service to a “compassionate conservative” president who came to Washington from the establishment wing of the Republican Party and from a dynastic political family.

The effort to convince wavering Democrats that he’s not a right-wing ideologue began in his acceptance speech, where Kavanaugh tried to head off liberal concerns that he might, if confirmed, set the nation back decades on issues pertaining to gender equality and civil rights.

Kavanaugh stated that the majority of clerks he’d hired have been women. He described his mother, a former prosecutor who was in the East Room, as a “trailblazer” who once taught at predominantly minority schools in Washington, D.C. Her experiences in education, he said, taught him the importance of “equality for all Americans.”

And he expressed pride and gratitude that he’d been hired to teach at Harvard Law School by liberal Justice Elena Kagan at a time when she served as dean. He also clerked for Kennedy.

            “I will keep an open mind in every case.” – Kavanaugh

Kavanaugh, flanked by his wife and two young daughters, also cast himself as a well-rounded, involved family man with deep ties to friends, his faith, and to the local community.

A former altar boy, Kavanaugh is Catholic and he talked about how he still serves the poor alongside his longtime priest. He coaches his daughter’s basketball team, where he’s earned the nickname “Coach K.” And Kavanaugh, who served as counsel to former President George W. Bush, remembered running out of the White House on 9/11 alongside Ashley Estes, a young aide who became his wife. The two had their first date only hours before the terror attacks.

Where do Republicans stand?

Kavanaugh needs only a simple majority to be confirmed and with 51 Republicans in the Senate, his chances seem good.

But there are potential hurdles:

> Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): Both women were among the 57 senators who voted in 2006 to confirm Kavanaugh to the appeals court. But that was a dozen years ago, for a less seismic job. Both Collins and Murkowski support abortion rights. They will need to be convinced that Kavanaugh is not intent on overturning Roe v. Wade. The senators declined White House invitations to attend last night’s event.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pressed Kavanaugh during his 2006 confirmation hearing to explain his personal views about Roe, and Kavanaugh declined to answer. But he added:

            “If confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, I would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully. That would be binding precedent of the court. It’s been decided by the Supreme Court.”

> Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): Paul has expressed concerns that Kavanaugh once wrote that the government’s metadata communications collection practices are not in violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Paul disagrees vehemently and declined an invitation to attend last night’s event, but vowed to keep an open mind.


The Hill: GOP rallies around Kavanaugh as Supreme Court pick.

Where do Democrats stand?

Those who are not up for reelection this year have it easy. They have the running room to oppose Kavanaugh and demand that all of their colleagues follow suit. Democrats’ rhetoric in opposing Trump’s nominee will sound dire. For instance:

            “Roe v. Wade could be overturned and abortion and forms of contraception criminalized. Americans with pre-existing conditions could lose life-saving health care. Marriage equality could be overturned. Racial inequality and blatant voter suppression could be further embraced by the highest court in the land.” – Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

The Hill: 2020 Democratic presidential contenders race to oppose Kavanaugh.

The real question: What will be the decisions of 10 red-state Democrats in the Senate who are up for reelection this year? None has tipped his or her hand, but the pressure is enormous. The price of a vote one way or another on Kavanaugh could be reelection.

Three Democratic senators –  Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) – voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch was a conservative justice replacing a conservative justice. It will be much tougher for Democrats to vote for a conservative justice replacing a swing-vote justice. Manchin, Donnelly and Heitkamp declined White House invitations to attend last night’s event.

The Hill: Dem strategy on Kavanaugh will be to unite around health care.

What now?

The money is already flowing for what will almost certainly be the most expensive Supreme Court confirmation battle in history.

The Wall Street Journal: Outside groups’ spending on confirmation battle has already begun.

The president’s goal: Kavanaugh’s confirmation by mid-September. The Supreme Court begins a new term in early October. And voters decide whether Republicans keep their House and Senate majorities in four short months.

Analysis from around the web

The Wall Street Journal: Kavanaugh, in his own words.

The Washington Post: Kavanaugh is “an unrelenting, unapologetic defender of presidential power.”

The Washington Post analysis: Chief Justice John Roberts now becomes the median justice on the court.

The New York Times: Kavanaugh is a conservative stalwart in political fights and on the bench.

The New York Times: How Kavanaugh’s ideology compares with other judges (graphic).

The Associated Press: Trump has been molding the judiciary for 18 months, to last a generation.


Richard Wolf: Kavanaugh straight out of central casting.

Lori Ringhand and Paul M. Collins Jr.: Answer the Senate’s questions, Judge Kavanaugh.

Akhil Reed Amar: A liberal’s case for Kavanaugh.

Matthew Yglesias: Kavanaugh is a normal Republican and a risk to democracy.

Ruth Marcus: ‘Political suicide’ for red-state Democrats to oppose Kavanaugh.


***ALERT*** President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen has a new attorney, Lanny Davis, who was a special counsel to former President Clinton and occasional adviser to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Davis fired off a public warning shot at Trump yesterday … an interesting development as the federal investigation into Cohen’s private business dealings unfold in New York. Cohen has not been charged with a crime … Full disclosure: Davis is an opinion contributor with The Hill.


INTERNATIONAL: Brexit troubles erupted into a front-page government crisis in England…

United Kingdom – Brexit: Days before Trump is to meet with NATO partners in Brussels and with Prime Minister Theresa May in London, the British government spiraled into a Brexit crisis as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit and Jeremy Hunt was named to succeed him on Monday (The Associated Press). Johnson’s resignation letter accused May of flying “white flags” of surrender in negotiations with the EU. A hard-won U.K. government consensus on future trade ties with the EU fell apart less than three days after it was forged, and nine months before Britain is due to leave the EU.

> Policy shifted in May’s divorce plan with the EU (Financial Times).

> Trump and first lady Melania Trump are to arrive in England on Thursday afternoon. They are to be fêted at a dinner outside London that night, will later meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and will also travel to Scotland.

North Korea: The Hill: The Trump administration is struggling to move forward in negotiations with North Korea following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s rocky visit to Pyongyang last week.

The president called the document he signed in June with Kim Jong Un “a contract” and says he has “confidence” North Korea will honor the loosely constructed agreement. But he also asserted once again that China may be a negative influence on achieving any denuclearization deal with North Korea.



Afghanistan: Pompeo slipped away to Afghanistan on Monday for a surprise visit to Kabul, his first as secretary (The Hill). He supported President Ashraf Ghani’s push to begin peace talks with the Taliban (Reuters). Pompeo has been traveling through Asian countries and is on his way to Europe to join the president during the NATO summit.


ADMINISTRATION: The immigration policy crisis sparked by the administration’s separation of children from relatives at the southern border gripped the White House, Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Health and Human Services Department throughout June. Now it is dominating in July as the government tries to undo the much-criticized effects the policy spawned.

Immigration – Reuniting families: Federal judge rejects Trump request presented in June for long-term detention of immigrant children (Reuters). … Separately, the Trump administration told a federal judge on Monday that the government will not meet today’s court-ordered deadline for reuniting all of the children aged 4 and younger who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks as a result of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, now halted. The judge said some progress has been made, however, and scheduled another hearing this morning, The Washington Post reports.

> More than 50 immigrant children under age 5 will be reunited with their parents by Tuesday’s court-ordered deadline for action by Trump administration, and the families will then be released into the United States. That’s only about half of the 100 or so toddlers covered by the judge’s order (The Associated Press).

Trump – drug prices: The Hill: Trump tweets (again) that unless drug companies lower their high prices, the United States will respond. The president’s ire aimed at Pfizer and other manufacturers remains clearer than his policy solutions.



HHS – federal payments to insurers: The Hill: The Trump administration’s recent abrupt suspension of billions of dollars in risk payments to ObamaCare insurers set off a scramble among companies as well as members of Congress from both parties.


CONGRESS & POLITICS: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is considering a run to be the next GOP leader in the House, is fighting back against allegations that he knew an Ohio State University coaching colleague was sexually assaulting student-athletes between 1987 and 1995 but did nothing to stop it.

Jordan has hired a top-flight conservative public relations firm, Shirley & Banister, which released a statement on Monday from six former wrestling coaches who said Jordan had no knowledge that Dr. Richard Strauss was molesting or sexually assaulting OSU wrestlers.

The Hill’s Scott Wong interviewed former Ohio State University head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson:

            “I am frankly pissed off at what they are doing to Jim Jordan. This is hysteria and politics running the narrative. [Jordan] gave his heart and soul to the personal development of these athletes. If they are attacking him, why aren’t they attacking the 30 or 40 other coaches at OSU?” – Hellickson.

Seven former OSU wrestlers have publicly stated that Jordan knew or must have known about the sexual abuse of OSU athletes while he was an assistant wrestling coach.

The Hill: Allies defend Jordan from Ohio State allegations.

> Liberal star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the self-described democratic socialist who recently defeated the No. 4 Democrat in the House, is coming to Washington, D.C., next week. Ocasio-Cortez plans to meet with lawmakers, outside groups and supporters on her first trip to Capitol Hill since stunning the political world by defeating Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in a primary election.

> Many viewed Crowley as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) eventual successor. His defeat has accelerated a debate on the left about whether Democrats need new blood in leadership positions.

During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Pelosi swatted away talk about two potential new Democratic leaders, Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), and by comparison tried to describe the high regard with which she says she’s held within her conference:

RS: Let’s look ahead to the speaker contest that would follow the election. What do you make of the Tim Ryans or Seth Moultons who’ve called for a new generation of leadership?

Pelosi: Inconsequential. They don’t have a following in our caucus. None.

RS: Is it frustrated ambition on their part?

Pelosi: I don’t know. I think there are lots of people who have worked very hard, and are more in line for what will happen one of these times. But they’re not to be considered [among] who those people would be. I mean, there are people who work very hard to win the elections, who have been in legislative battles. People who paid their dues. Not to put anybody down. Anybody is consequential. But I have great support in my caucus. I’m not worried about that. And I’m certainly not worried about them.

> Senate Democratic candidates are breaking with progressives who are calling for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Several potential 2020 presidential candidates are calling for ICE to be abolished but those Senate Democrats in tight races this year are stopping short as they seek to appeal to swing voters in their states (The Hill).

> Congress is weighing whether to ban the government’s use of video surveillance equipment from two of the world’s largest manufacturers because of their Chinese ownership. There are growing concerns that the products could be used for espionage (The Hill).

More from Capitol Hill … New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order to protect abortion and contraception in his state just hours before Trump picked Kavanaugh (The Hill) … Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher (Wis.) has introduced a bill that would curtail the president’s trade powers (The Hill) … House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has been released from the hospital and will return to work after being treated for pneumonia (Roll Call).

CAMPAIGNS: Looking ahead to the 2020 presidential race, The Hill’s Amie Parnes examines whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) can win over the blue-collar Midwest and Rust Belt voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states that helped deliver the White House to Trump in 2016 (The Hill).

More from the campaign trail … Puerto Ricans in Florida will play a pivotal role in deciding the state’s marquee Senate race this year, as both candidates scramble to woo one of the Sunshine State’s fastest growing Hispanic groups (The Hill) … Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is seeking to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), just posted the largest fundraising haul of the 2018 cycle so far (The Hill).


The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley & Alexis Simendinger Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!



Democrats ignore the left at their own peril, by Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Chicago City Council alderman writing for NBC News.

Never-Trumpers do not represent the Republican base, by Ned Ryun, opinion contributor with The Hill.


The House convenes at noon.

The Senate begins work at 10 a.m. and considers several judicial and executive nominations. The Veterans’ Affairs Committee will vote on the nomination of Robert Wilkie to be Veterans Affairs secretary.

The president and the first lady depart for Brussels this morning, to attend the annual NATO summit. On Thursday, the Trumps will be in the United Kingdom.

The vice president meets this morning in the Capitol with Sen. McConnell and nominee Kavanaugh. Later, Pence participates in a political fundraiser at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. He will also attend the Senate GOP policy lunch at 1:25 p.m. in the Capitol. Back at the White House, he’ll meet in his office with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 3:30 p.m.

Secretary Pompeo made a surprise trip Monday to Afghanistan. Today he meets with staff and families from the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Later, the secretary meets with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi.


> At least three states this year are including ballot measures that would legalize marijuana, while proponents and opponents hone pitches borrowed from other pot battlegrounds. Backers of legalization argue that easing the rules will lead to social justice, while opponents point to potential risks to minors (The Hill).

> In Thailand, a third operation is underway today to rescue all four remaining boys and their 25-year-old coach from flooded caves (The Associated Press). A total of 10 of 12 youngsters were rescued as of 6:30 a.m. EDT (The Guardian). Today’s efforts involved 19 divers.

> Two tropical weather systems are spinning near U.S. shores, with the remnants of ex-Hurricane Beryl threatening to bring flooding rain to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and Tropical Storm Chris lurking off the Carolina coast. In the Caribbean, the system will be the first test for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as they continue to struggle to recover from last year’s devastating storms (USA Today).

> FIFA World Cup semi-final today 2 p.m., France vs. Belgium, in St. Petersburg, Russia, will present a clash of styles (BBC).


And finally … Before Washington dives into a Supreme Court confirmation drama that will play out over months, how about some judicial words of wisdom, in no particular order:

The judge who always likes the results he reaches is a bad judge.” – Antonin Scalia, 2013

The notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2014

Don’t concentrate all the power in one place. …You don’t want all the power in the government as opposed to the people. You don’t want all the power in the federal government as opposed to the states.” – William Rehnquist, 1985

You have citizens who don’t understand how government works, and they’re kind of soured on it. All they do is criticize. They have no idea that they can make things happen. As a citizen, you need to know how to be a part of it, how to express yourself – and not just by voting.” Sandra Day O’Connor, 2012

Governments derive their power from many sources – the military or police are instruments of power and may in the short run enforce the government’s directives against an unwilling people. But authority is a different question – and no government can govern long, or well, without the authority that comes from a shared consensus among the governed. They must believe that theirs is a rightful, and lawful, and just government.” Thurgood Marshall, 1978



Tags Bill Nelson Charles Schumer Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Heidi Heitkamp Hillary Clinton Jeff Merkley Jim Jordan Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin Lisa Murkowski Melania Trump Mike Gallagher Mike Pompeo Nancy Pelosi Rand Paul Seth Moulton Steny Hoyer Susan Collins Tim Ryan
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