GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh

GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh
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Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh seems on track for confirmation, as moderate Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse passes bill to expand workplace protections for nursing mothers Democrats look for plan B on filibuster Senate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week MORE (R-Alaska) have not signaled plans to oppose his confirmation despite strong lobbying over their votes.

Neither moderates voiced any misgivings at a meeting of the entire GOP conference Wednesday that was devoted to discussing Kavanaugh’s nomination, according to lawmakers in the room.

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Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, predicted that Collins and Murkowski will support Kavanaugh.

“I can’t speak for them, but I’m just pretty sure they’ll be there,” he said. “He’s a good guy. There’s nothing controversial about him other than he’s a Republican and a conservative.”

Kavanaugh has already met with a handful of Republican senators and received strong reviews.

Republicans effectively control a 50-49 seat majority because Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' Grant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Will Trump choose megalomania over country? MORE (R-Ariz.) is away from Washington indefinitely while undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

If Democrats hold their ranks opposing him, a single Republican defection would be enough to sink Kavanaugh.

Liberal groups such as Demand Justice, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Protect Our Care are spending millions of dollars in Maine and Alaska to pressure the two moderate GOP senators to vote against Kavanaugh.

Demand Justice is expected to spend $5 million on a broad advertising campaign targeting Collins and Murkowski, as well as centrist Democrats up for reelection in Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia.

NARAL Pro-Choice America this week announced a six-figure ad buy covering Maine and Alaska as well as Nevada and Colorado, where moderate Sens. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerNevada becomes early Senate battleground Nevada governor Sisolak injured in car accident, released from hospital Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada MORE (R-Nev.) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerColorado remap plan creates new competitive district Protecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm MORE (R-Colo.) face tough reelections in 2018 and 2020, respectively.

But Collins, who has begun to review Kavanaugh’s record, said Thursday that pressure from outside groups won’t have any effect.

“I’m going to make my own decision, as I always have,” Collins told reporters.

“If the Democrats think the pressure campaign that they unleashed in Maine, including $3 million for the television, radio and online ads is going to have an impact on me, they’re sorely mistaken,” she said. “It would be better if they put that money to better use.”

Collins has praised Kavanaugh’s “impressive credentials,” though she cautions she hasn’t yet made up her mind.

“How can anyone argue that someone who served on the circuit court for more than decade and has sterling academic credentials and teaches law is not qualified? But that’s only one part of the test,” she said. Kavanaugh currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Collins says she has only just begun reading Kavanaugh’s more than 300 legal opinions and has already submitted inquiries to the Congressional Research Service.

Democrats say it’s way too early to say whether Kavanaugh will get the 50 votes needed to secure his Senate confirmation.

“There are a million pages to read, it’s way too soon to say this is over,” said a Senate Democratic aide, referring to the nominee’s voluminous record as a judge.

Murkowski says she feels more comfortable with Kavanaugh than she would have felt had 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 picked someone else from the list released by the White House of 25 potential Supreme Court nominees. The list was vetted by the conservative Federalist Society.

“I think it’s fair to say there were some folks on the list, just based on the very shallow background that we had on them, who would have been more difficult,” she said.

Murkowski says she plans to spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday doing a “deep dive” into Kavanaugh’s work.

Kavanaugh is getting a big boost with the GOP moderates from Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Top GOP senators want joint review of Afghan visa process Timken rolls out six-figure ad campaign, hits Fauci MORE (R-Ohio), who worked closely with the nominee in the George W. Bush administration. Kavanaugh served as White House staff secretary and Portman headed the White House budget office.

Portman is close with Collins and Murkowski — all three teamed up to protect the expansion of Medicaid in the 2017 health-care debate — and has spoken to both of them to bolster Kavanaugh.

Portman has vouched for Kavanaugh’s values and integrity to his colleagues.

“He’s a guy with great compassion, great humility and a big heart,” Portman said on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon.

He noted that Kavanaugh served meals to the homeless after spending much of Wednesday meeting with senators on Capitol Hill.

Republican leaders are confident they will match or exceed the 54 votes that Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, received last year.

That would mean keeping the GOP conference unified as well as picking up four or five Democratic votes.

“I would hope we could duplicate, at minimum, what we were able to see with Judge Gorsuch, which was 54 votes,” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (Texas).

Republicans are pointing to a new Tarrance Group poll showing a majority of voters in several Senate battleground states — Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia — want their Democratic senators to vote for Kavanaugh.

So far most red-state Democrats are staying quiet about their votes, but one senator, Joe ManchinJoe ManchinAngus King: Losing climate provisions in reconciliation bill weakens Biden's hands in Glasgow Independent senator: 'Talking filibuster' or 'alternative' an option Rep. Khanna expresses frustration about Sinema MORE (D-W.Va.), has praised the nominee.

Manchin praised Kavanaugh in a radio interview for having “all the right qualities” of a Supreme Court justice.

Democrats also think there might be a chance that libertarian Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Vaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention MORE (R-Ky.) or conservative Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCawthorn, Lee introduce bills banning interstate travel vaccine mandate Retreating economy creates new hurdle for Democrats in 2022 McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' MORE (R-Utah), two outspoken critics of the Patriot Act and warrantless surveillance, could turn against Kavanaugh because of concerns with his views on the Fourth Amendment, which establishes a constitutional right to privacy.

A Senate Democratic aide said a document could emerge from Kavanaugh’s time with the Bush administration revealing some involvement in the decision to authorize warrantless surveillance.

But whether such a document exists is purely speculative.

Paul says he will keep an “open mind” on Kavanaugh and has requested additional information from the nominee.

A Republican senator who requested anonymity predicted that Paul may “grouse in private” about Kavanaugh but will ultimately vote for him.

The same source described Lee as “effusive” of Kavanaugh in private conversations.