Dems shun media spotlight amid Kavanaugh meetings

Dems shun media spotlight amid Kavanaugh meetings

Senate Democrats are keeping a low profile as they meet with President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE’s Supreme Court nominee.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is making the rounds on Capitol Hill, but most of the 10 Democrats who have sat down with him have shied away from cameras and reporters, a strikingly different approach from those of GOP senators.

Red-state Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Ex-Rep. Akin dies at 74 Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (Mo.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSchumer: 'Goal' is to pass Biden spending bill before Christmas The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back This week: Congress starts year-end legislative sprint MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (Ind.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampVirginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters Washington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight MORE (N.D.) — all up for reelection this year — have met with Kavanaugh without having a formal media availability before or after their meeting. Instead, each released a statement offering a broad overview of the meeting, with scant details on what was discussed or what Kavanaugh said.


The tactic hasn’t allowed the vulnerable Democrats to avoid the press entirely. More than a dozen reporters and cameramen have been staking out the meetings in case Kavanaugh or the senators break routine and speak with journalists.

Manchin, for example, had to leave his office shortly after his one-on-one with Kavanaugh to attend a Democratic leadership meeting. He was followed by a gaggle of reporters from the entrance of the Capitol on the first floor, up a staircase and to the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers take aim at 'Grinches' using bots to target consumers during holidays Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills Schumer mourns death of 'amazing' father MORE (D-N.Y.) on the second floor.

Asked to explain the rationale behind the strategy, a spokesman for Manchin said “there was no real thinking behind it.”

But it’s a shift from how some members of the caucus handled President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, in 2017, when reporters and photographers were routinely allowed in before the start of the closed-door meetings to try to ask questions or snap a photo of a senator with a Supreme Court hopeful.

Last year, for example, Manchin took questions before the meeting, while Gorsuch sat beside him. Heitkamp stood next to Gorsuch before their sit-down, while photographers and cameramen recorded the encounter.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Five faces from the media who became political candidates MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, poked fun at the process when she briefly allowed reporters into her office last year to take photos of her with Gorsuch.

“If anything makes one self conscious this is it,” she told Gorsuch at the time as they stood in front of photographers. “You don’t talk and you just stand here like a dummy.”

This time around, Feinstein has kept a tight lid on her meeting with Trump’s Supreme Court pick, even though she has spoken at length about Kavanaugh’s nomination in the Judiciary Committee and to reporters.

She didn’t allow reporters into the room before or after her Monday meeting, and as of Tuesday evening she hadn’t released a statement on her one-hour sit-down with him.

A spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday about the strategy, but Feinstein told the Los Angeles Times that she wanted to have a second meeting with Kavanaugh.

When reporters hovered near Feinstein on Tuesday as she walked through the Capitol basement with a Senate staffer, the aide told reporters that he and Feinstein were having a “private conversation,” speaking with the senator until they got on the train to head toward Senate office buildings.

Schumer, who routinely speaks about the Supreme Court fight from the Senate floor, became the first Democrat to set up a media availability for his meeting with Kavanaugh, on Tuesday. He spoke with roughly two dozen reporters after the meeting, saying their talk was “cordial” and “direct.”

“But unfortunately Judge Kavanaugh refused to answer even the most basic questions about his jurisprudence and his judicial philosophy,” Schumer said.

Democrats are under enormous pressure from both sides of the aisle over Kavanaugh, who, if confirmed, could tilt the court to the right for decades.

Progressive outside groups have dismissed the meetings with Kavanaugh as a “waste of time.” Credo Action Co-Director Heidi Hess on Tuesday said that Schumer’s rhetoric after his meeting doesn’t matter if he can’t unite Democrats in opposition.

“If Senate Democrats don't unanimously oppose Kavanaugh, the American people will suffer the consequences and Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers take aim at 'Grinches' using bots to target consumers during holidays Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills Schumer mourns death of 'amazing' father MORE will deserve the blame,” Hess said.

California state Sen. Kevin De León, Feinstein’s progressive opponent, has knocked her for playing “polite, country-club politics.”

Underscoring the difference in strategy between vulnerable 2018 incumbents and 2020 White House hopefuls, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBuilding back a better vice presidency Stacey Abrams nominated to board of solar energy firm Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE (D-Calif.) spoke with reporters after her Kavanaugh meeting and used the press conference to relitigate her opposition to his nomination.

"There really is nothing about that conversation that has in any way changed my perspective of his record," she said.

The Supreme Court tactics by most Democrats have become fodder for Republicans hoping to unseat red-state Democrats in November.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) characterized Heitkamp as being in a “no-win situation.” After Donnelly met with Kavanaugh, the campaign of his GOP opponent, Mike Braun, accused him of blocking the media but filming the meeting to potentially use it in campaign ads.

McCaskill, who has been extremely tight-lipped about the Supreme Court fight, released her own photos of her meeting with Kavanaugh on Tuesday. Republicans have tried to make the Supreme Court fight a key issue in the crucial Missouri race, with Kelli Ford, press secretary for GOP challenger Josh Hawley, questioning if McCaskill will “stand up to Schumer.”

But it’s not just red-state Democrats who are keeping a low profile.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBiden faces new pressure from climate groups after Powell pick Five Senate Democrats reportedly opposed to Biden banking nominee Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Ohio), who’s running for reelection in a purple state won by Trump, met quietly with Kavanaugh on Monday.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos Senate advances defense bill after delay Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senators to take up defense bill Wednesday MORE (D-Va.), who is running for reelection in a state that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE won, said he expected to meet with Kavanaugh on Thursday, but like his colleagues he predicted he wouldn’t set aside time to speak with reporters before or after the meeting.

“I actually put out a statement when he was nominated of the things I’m concerned about and that’s already out there,” he said. “And that hasn’t changed.”