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Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing

Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing
© Greg Nash

The Senate Judiciary Committee announced on Friday that it will hold its confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh early next month. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October MORE (R-Iowa), the committee's chairman, announced the hearing for President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE’s nominee to replace former Justice Anthony Kennedy will start on Sept. 4 and last three to four days. 

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“He’s a mainstream judge. He has a record of judicial independence and applying the law as it is written. ... It’s time for the American people to hear directly from Judge Kavanaugh at his public hearing,” Grassley said in a statement. 

Republicans want Kavanaugh on the bench as early as the first of October, before the court starts its next term. They’ve warned that they won’t delay a final vote until after the midterm elections in November. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, indicated on Friday that the timeline for Kavanaugh's hearing will allow the Senate to vote on his nomination next month as well. 

“I look forward to what will be a thorough and open vetting process by the Committee between now and September, followed by a vote to confirm him before October 1," he said.

The timeline means that the lawmakers will hold a hearing — and potentially full Senate vote — before the National Archives is able to fulfill Grassley’s request for documents from Kavanaugh’s time as a White House lawyer. 

The agency wrote to Grassley that it wouldn’t be able to complete the request, which it expects will total more than 900,000 pages, until late October. The documents would still need to go through a final review before being turned over to the committee.

But Republicans have brushed off the setback, arguing that a legal team for President George W. Bush is reviewing the same documents and will be able to hand over the documents at a faster pace. 

Democrats counter that the Bush legal team is cherrypicking which documents will be publicly released based on what is political advantageous. 

"Republicans just announced that they are scheduling a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh starting on September 4. This is outrageous. No one will be able to look at his full record before the hearing – not me, not you, not anyone. It won’t have been made public," Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders: Trump setting 'terrible example' for our children Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Kamala Harris rallies voters in South Carolina MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a tweet on Friday.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders: Trump setting 'terrible example' for our children Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE (D-N.J.), another member of the committee, added that Republicans and the White House appeared to be concerned about "what will emerge" if the Senate had all of Kavanaugh's documents before moving forward. 

“Holding a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee before receiving even the small subset of documents that Republicans themselves have requested is nothing short of stunning. This development is just the latest demonstration of the extent to which Senate Republicans have hijacked the normal process for vetting Supreme Court nominees and turned it into an opaque, partisan, wildly incomplete exercise," Booker said in a statement.  

Grassley noted that his staff has already reviewed 4,800 pages of judicial opinions Kavanaugh authored, as well as 125,000 pages from his White House work and more than 17,000 pages included as part of his questionnaire response. 

“At this current pace, we have plenty of time to review the rest of emails and other records that we will receive from President Bush and the National Archives,” Grassley said. 

So far the Bush team has handed over to the committee two tranches of documents: one totaling more than 125,000 pages and another this week that totaled more than 49,000 pages. 

But only a fraction of those documents, roughly 5,000 pages, has been approved to be released publicly. 

The weeks-long fight over Kavanaugh's documents has infuriated Democrats and their allies. 

Democrats want the National Archives to hand over documents from Kavanaugh's work as a staff secretary for the Bush White House, arguing it would shed light on his legal thinking on controversial issues like torture or surveillance. 

But, so far, Republicans have refused to request the paperwork, accusing Democrats of going on a "fishing expedition" that could slow-walk Kavanaugh's nomination. 

Grassley has only requested that the Archives hand over documents from Kavanaugh's work as a White House lawyer. 

Because Democrats are in the minority, they are powerless to force the Archives to hand over Kavanaugh's staff secretary work. And potential GOP swing votes, including Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: Palin unpopular in Alaska following jab at Murkowski Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Ex-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Susan Collins and the mob mentality MORE (Maine), have labeled their request "excessive," signaling they won't pressure leadership to cooperate. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDurbin to Trump: ‘We’re the mob? Give me a break’ Sen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue GOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the agency this week saying she was "alarmed" by their refusal to respond to Democratic requests and urged them to reconsider. 

"I am alarmed that you would deny Committee Democrats the materials necessary to fulfill their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent, while providing the materials requested by the Republicans. I urge you to reconsider your position," Feinstein wrote in the letter, which was sent to archivist David Ferriero on Monday.

But she faces an uphill fight to get the National Archives to reverse its position. Ferriero previously rebuffed a similar effort from Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) after consultation with his general counsel and the Justice Department. 

The National Archives “remains unable to respond to [Presidential Records Act] special access requests from ranking minority members,” wrote Ferriero, who was appointed by former President Obama.

Senate Judiciary Democrats, in a hail-mary move, filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on Wednesday for Kavanaugh's paperwork, including documents from the three-year period he was staff secretary. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who led the effort, acknowledged that it was "unprecedented" and a "last resort." 

"We need these documents to do our job," Blumenthal said. "There is too much at stake to accept anything less than a complete picture of Judge Kavanaugh's background."

Cornyn, the Senate GOP whip, praised Trump's nominee in a statement released on Friday.

“By now it’s clear that Judge Kavanaugh will be a fair arbiter of the law who will call balls and strikes, not impose his personal beliefs or policy preferences on the American people. … Since before he was even nominated, Democrats have launched one desperate attack on him after another. They’ve thrown everything at the wall, and nothing has stuck,” Cornyn said.

With a slim 51-49 majority, Republicans can’t afford any defections in Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote if all Democrats vote against him.

Multiple Democrats, including Booker and Harris, have already come out in opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination. However, others running for reelection in red states — such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Blankenship endorses ex-W.Va. GOP Senate rival, calls him 'lying' drug lobbyist MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Donnelly parodies 'Veep' in new campaign ad MORE (D-Ind.) — have expressed more openness to his nomination.

This is Trump’s second Supreme Court fight in less than two years.

His previous nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed with 54 votes, including every Senate Republican as well as Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE (N.D.), Donnelly and Manchin.

While Gorsuch’s confirmation, which replaced a conservative with a conservative, did not drastically alter the ideological makeup of the court, Kavanaugh’s could if he is approved to replace Kennedy, who was considered a swing vote.

Liberal group have been expressing alarm that a court including Kavanaugh could undo abortion rights or protections for pre-existing conditions in health plans.

—Updated at 5:01 p.m. Tal Axelrod contributed.