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 GrassleyRand Paul blocking Trump counterterrorism nominee Avenatti arrested over alleged domestic violence: police Trump throws support behind criminal justice bill MORE (R-Iowa), the committee's chairman, announced the hearing for President TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE’s nominee to replace former Justice Anthony Kennedy will start on Sept. 4 and last three to four days. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 CornynTrump throws support behind criminal justice bill McConnell reelected as leader, Thune promoted to whip This week: Congress starts lame-duck with leadership fight 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 HarrisO'Rourke receives invite to visit Iowa from Democratic Party in Des Moines Nearly six in ten want someone other than Trump elected president in 2020: poll Howard Dean: Democratic Party getting younger as GOP gets ‘older and whiter’ MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a tweet on Friday.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerO'Rourke receives invite to visit Iowa from Democratic Party in Des Moines Bill to protect Mueller blocked in Senate McConnell: Mueller probe should be allowed to finish 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 MurkowskiErnst elected to Senate GOP leadership Earmarks look to be making a comeback Trump and Pelosi set to collide as Democrats celebrate their power MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDems vow swift action on gun reform next year Collins reiterates call for legislation to protect Mueller investigation GOP nerves on edge after Sinema takes lead over McSally MORE (Maine), have labeled their request "excessive," signaling they won't pressure leadership to cooperate. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCongress needs to wake up to nuclear security threat Democrats in murky legal water with Whitaker lawsuits Pavlich: Where is Brett Kavanaugh’s apology? 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 SchumerSchumer warns Trump to stay out of government funding negotiations Schumer predicts Nelson will 'continue being senator' if 'every vote counted' Over 1,600 lawyers sign letter saying Mueller probe must be protected 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) ManchinSchumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Mellman: The triumph of partisanship Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon Donnelly2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship The Memo: Dem hopes for 2020 grow in midterms afterglow 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 Heitkamp2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship GOP nerves on edge after Sinema takes lead over McSally 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.