GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh

GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh
© Getty Images

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh seems on track for confirmation, as moderate Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Progressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP Hillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese 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 McCainConservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters Donald Trump's 2020 election economic gamble 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 HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Tariffs threaten 1.5M jobs: Study This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry 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 John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed 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 PortmanWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight 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 CornynImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP GOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPolitical purity tests are for losers Former coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda 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 Paul Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' GOP divided over impeachment trial strategy MORE (R-Ky.) or conservative Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Senators introduce bipartisan bill restricting police use of facial recognition tech 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.