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

Democrats went on the attack Tuesday against President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE’s new pick for the Supreme Court, but acknowledged they are unlikely to win the war. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms 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 (Bob) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting MORE’s Russia probe.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package 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 GrassleyAlabama Republican becomes third House member to test positive for COVID-19 this week The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Republican senators urge Trump to dodge pardon controversies 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 McCaskillMcCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump Democrats must turn around Utah police arrest man driving 130 mph claiming he was going to kill former Missouri senator 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 NelsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots The Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 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 HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Grassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him MORE (R-Alaska) have been careful to “sound positive” about Kavanaugh but have emphasized it’s still early in the process.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate 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) ManchinSanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Progressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal Rubio and Ocasio-Cortez spar on Twitter: 'Work more, tweet less' 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 DonnellyBiden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty 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 ENERGY: Kerry says Paris climate deal alone 'is not enough' | EPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler| EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline GSA transition delay 'poses serious risk' to Native Americans, Udall says MORE (Del.) and former Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth 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 FeinsteinFeinstein pushes for California secretary of state to replace Harris in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot 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 MurrayCriminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot National reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition 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 PaulOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return 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.