Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick

Democrats went on the attack Tuesday against President TrumpDonald John TrumpActivists highlight Trump ties to foreign autocrats in hotel light display Jose Canseco pitches Trump for chief of staff: ‘Worried about you looking more like a Twinkie everyday’ Dershowitz: Mueller's report will contain 'sins' but no 'impeachable offense' MORE’s new pick for the Supreme Court, but acknowledged they are unlikely to win the war. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenators prepare for possibility of Christmas in Washington during a shutdown Mania at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Trump, Democratic leaders go toe-to-toe at White House MORE (D-N.Y.) has focused his party’s offensive on the risks that a conservative court could pose to abortion rights and affordable health care, while other Democrats labeled Brett Kavanaugh an “extreme” pick whom Trump was motivated to nominate as protection from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s Russia probe.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Overnight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war MORE (R-Ky.) defended Kavanaugh as thoroughly qualified and deserving confirmation.

“Judge Kavanaugh possesses an impressive résumé, an outstanding legal mind and an exemplary judicial temperament,” he said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTop security officials issue stark warning of Chinese espionage efforts Lame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act The Hill's Morning Report — Takeaways from the battle royal in the Oval Office MORE (R-Iowa) said he expects Kavanaugh to receive a vote on the floor 65 to 70 days from now, in keeping with recent Senate precedent, and for his panel to hold confirmation hearings around Labor Day.

Democrats are calling for more time, citing the millions of documents they need to review from Kavanaugh’s time as White House staff secretary under former George W. Bush and his 12-year record on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

But Grassley says he’s not going to deviate much from the timeline used for Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first nominee.

A handful of Democrats and Republicans are potential swing votes and are coming under heavy pressure from both sides. It’s a much harder decision for Democrats facing reelection in states that Trump carried by large margins in 2016, reflected by their dogged efforts to dodge reporters’ questions on Tuesday.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGOP congresswoman says she opted out of NRCC run because McCarthy had 'a different plan' Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — Officials warn of threat from Chinese spying | China blamed for Marriott hack | Trump open to intervening in Huawei case | FCC mulls ending merger ban on 'Big Four' networks | California floats tax on texts Bipartisan supply chain bill likely punted to next Congress, McCaskill says MORE (D-Mo.) kept her cellphone glued to her ear whenever she walked through public hallways, making it impossible for journalists to ask her about Kavanaugh’s record.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonCoal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee GOP opens door to new NC election amid fraud claims More than 6,000 mail-in ballots in Florida were not counted: officials MORE (D-Fla.) pleaded that he was losing his voice and urged one reporter for The New York Times to “look at my statement.”

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches House passes bipartisan bill aimed at reversing rising maternal mortality rates MORE (D-N.D.) bolted from the Capitol out of the first floor exit instead of taking the Senate subway, where most reporters camp out.

The Judicial Crisis Network announced Monday evening that it would launch a $1.4 million cable and digital ad campaign to pressure Democrats in the red states of Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia to back the nominee.

Senate Democrats admitted it will be difficult to defeat Kavanaugh with only 49 seats in their caucus, but their goal is to inflict as much political damage on the GOP as possible ahead of the November midterm elections.

“We have to lower the expectations of our base. We can’t defeat the nominee on our own,” said a Democratic senator who requested anonymity to discuss internal party deliberations. 

“If they keep all their votes together, there’s nothing we can do,” a Senate Democratic aide said of the Republican leadership’s effort to keep its conference unified.

The aide also noted that Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure Trump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report Lobbying World MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips The Senate must reject Bernard McNamee’s nomination for FERC Overnight Defense: Congress pauses to mourn George H.W. Bush | Haspel to brief senators on Khashoggi killing | Soldier is fourth to die from Afghan IED blast MORE (R-Alaska) have been careful to “sound positive” about Kavanaugh but have emphasized it’s still early in the process.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators prepare for possibility of Christmas in Washington during a shutdown Dem senator: Trump 'seems more rattled than usual' Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving MORE (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said if Republicans stick together, the chances of defeating Kavanaugh are “very low.”

But he says that could change as the committee begins to dig more deeply into his record and a “range of Republicans will feel pressure from their states” to oppose the nominee.

Democratic leaders see the rising cost of health care as one of their best campaign issues heading into the midterms and want to play it up by warning the Supreme Court could threaten protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Their goal is to keep the Senate Democratic Caucus unified as long as possible in hopes of putting more pressure on Republican swing votes.

That’s a big reason why Schumer is making Kavanaugh’s past criticism of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) one of his top arguments for defeating him.

“Judge Kavanaugh has argued that the Supreme Court should question the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “He openly criticized the Supreme Court when they upheld the law. He’s no neutral arbiter.”

Democratic leaders believe the focus on health-care affordability is the best way to keep red-state moderates from defecting.

The strategy appears to be having an influence on one key swing vote: Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Trump moves to ease Obama water rule | EPA document contradicts agency over water rule data| Manchin to be top Dem on Senate Energy panel Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee Schumer to Trump: Future infrastructure bill must combat climate change MORE (D) of West Virginia, a state Trump carried by 42 points and who is a big GOP target this fall. 

Manchin says he’s concerned how Kavanaugh may rule on federal protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, a pillar of the ACA.

“The Supreme Court will ultimately decide if nearly 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions will lose their healthcare. This decision will directly impact almost 40 percent of my state, so I’m very interested in his position on protecting West Virginians with pre-existing conditions,” Manchin said in a statement.

Manchin, along with Heitkamp and Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches Schumer gets ready to go on the offensive MORE (D-Ind.), all backed Gorsuch last year. 

Four Democrats in 2006 supported Kavanaugh’s nomination to his current post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — ObamaCare signups lag behind last year despite recent surge | Drug company offers cheaper opioid overdose treatment after hiking price 600 percent | CDC calls fentanyl deadliest drug in US Drug company to offer cheaper opioid overdose treatment after hiking price 600 percent Overnight Energy: Trump adviser Kudlow seeks end to electric car, renewable energy credits | Shell to pay execs based on carbon reduction | Justices reject greens' border wall lawsuit MORE (Del.) and former Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuLobbying world Former New Orleans mayor: It's not my 'intention' to run for president Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE (La.) and Robert Byrd (W.Va.).

Democrats this week have attacked Kavanaugh on many fronts, criticizing him as someone who would be overly deferential to Trump’s presidential powers and hostile to gun control measures.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation Dems demand Pompeo brief Congress on whether he discussed Assange with Ecuadorian official Cohen saga reaches dramatic climax in federal court MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized Kavanaugh for ruling in a 2011 case that the Second Amendment established a right to own semi-automatic firearms.

“He argued in 2011 against Washington, D.C.’s ban because weapons like AR-15s are in ‘common use,’ ” she noted.

Schumer has vowed to the party’s liberal base that he will do everything he can to stop Kavanaugh, but to be successful he needs to convince at least one Republican to cross the aisle.

Their two most likely prospects are Collins and Murkowski, who support abortion rights. Both lawmakers opposed efforts by GOP leaders last year to defund Planned Parenthood, a major provider of family-planning services in their states.

Yet, Republicans appear confident they will be united on Kavanaugh. 

On Tuesday, The Boston Globe cast doubt on Collins breaking with the GOP by publishing an analysis that she has voted for judicial nominees put forward by Republican presidents nearly 99 percent of the time. The media outlet reviewed more than 500 of her votes on nominees for the Supreme Court, circuit courts of appeal, district courts and other judicial appointments. 

Democrats on Tuesday began building a case against Kavanaugh that he cannot be trusted to uphold Roe v. Wade or defend reproductive rights in general. They zeroed in on Kavanaugh’s rulings in favor of the Department of Health and Human Services after it prevented an unaccompanied pregnant teenager who was detained crossing the Texas border from visiting an abortion clinic.

Kavanaugh wrote in a dissenting opinion to Garza v. Hargan that “the government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor and refraining from facilitating abortion.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayVA senior adviser forced out amid concerns that he was 'getting paid to sit on his couch': report The Year Ahead: Drug pricing efforts to test bipartisanship Overnight Health Care: Manchin pitched Trump on reviving bipartisan ObamaCare fix | 4 in 10 don’t plan to get flu shots | Survey finds more than a quarter have pre-existing conditions MORE (Wash.), the highest-ranking woman in the Democratic leadership, warned that “a vote for President Trump’s Judge Kavanaugh is a vote to go back to the days when women had to go into back alleys for health care.”

That tough rhetoric could boomerang and spark awkwardness in the caucus if red-state Democrats end up voting for Kavanaugh. 

But the abortion-focused tactics do not appear to be moving Collins or Murkowski, who on Tuesday said they would keep an open mind about the nominee.

“I think the judge has impressive credentials,” Collins said. “I obviously want the opportunity to sit down with him one-on-one and to get a better sense of his judicial philosophy.” 

Murkowski said she would not make any quick decisions.

“There’s a lot to look at with Judge Kavanaugh,” she said. “I’m going to be able to give you more of a reaction after I’ve had an opportunity for more thorough review.”

Collins and Murkowski did not voice any concerns or opposition when the GOP conference discussed Kavanaugh with Vice President Pence at a private lunch Tuesday, according to a lawmaker who attended the meeting.

The GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity predicted that both moderates will end up voting for Kavanaugh. 

Another potential Republican swing vote is libertarian Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act Limited Senate access to CIA intelligence is not conspiracy Dems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator' MORE (R-Ky.), who has privately expressed concern about what he sees as Kavanaugh’s weak position on Fourth Amendment–related privacy issues.

Paul on Tuesday said, “I’m keeping an open mind, and we’ll follow the process.”

Schumer says that Democrats will also emphasize Kavanaugh’s expressions of support for broad presidential authorities, such as his 2009 article in the Minnesota Law Review arguing that sitting presidents should not be subject to criminal investigations and civil lawsuits while in office. 

“He is almost certainly the one who would most yield to presidential power, to say that if a president deems a law unconstitutional he doesn’t have to obey it,” Schumer said. “That’s dangerous at any time, but it’s particularly dangerous when Donald Trump is president.”

Jordain Carney contributed.