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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 GrassleyRep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Loeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results MORE (R-Iowa), the committee's chairman, announced the hearing for President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit 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 CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results 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 HarrisHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Mexican president breaks with other world leaders, refusing to acknowledge Biden win until election is finalized MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a tweet on Friday.

Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' 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 MurkowskiTrump administration denies permit for controversial Pebble Mine Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (Maine), have labeled their request "excessive," signaling they won't pressure leadership to cooperate. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee 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 SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn 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) ManchinMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Voters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (D-W.Va.) and 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.) — 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 HeitkampMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' in new administration 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.