Kaine wins left’s ire by not saying ‘no’ to Kavanaugh — yet

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is coming under fire by progressive groups for his handling of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

Kaine, the party’s 2016 vice presidential candidate, is widely expected among activists to be a “no” vote when Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote reaches the Senate floor next month.

Publicly, however, he’s on the fence — and that’s frustrating liberal groups opposed to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

They’re facing an uphill fight in seeking to block Kavanaugh in the majority GOP Senate, and have zeroed in on Kaine and other undecided Democrats.

By staying on the sidelines, they say Kaine is giving cover to the handful of red-state Democrats and centrist Republicans who will really determine the vote’s outcome.

{mosads}Heidi Hess, the co-director of CREDO Action, said that it was “somewhat unfathomable” that any Democratic senator could still be undecided, particularly following former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea on Tuesday. Though Trump denies wrongdoing, Cohen referred to the president as an unnamed co-conspirator.

Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America, said it was “maddening” that Kaine hasn’t announced he is a “no” vote.

“This is the former nominee of the Democratic Party for vice president who can’t seem to realize the kind of massive threat to women’s rights and women’s lives that Brett Kavanaugh poses and that’s just mind-boggling,” Sroka said in a recent interview.

Kaine, who is up for reelection this fall, says he’s taking his duties seriously, and notes that his actions with regard to Kavanaugh have been consistent with how he considered former President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, whom Republicans refused to give a hearing; and Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch.

Kaine met with Gorsuch but ultimately came out against his nomination in late March, days after the Judiciary Committee hearing.

The senator argues that rushing to come out against Kavanaugh’s nomination “makes the process less helpful to the American public.”

“If everybody takes a position before the hearings, why have the hearings? … You could just discharge and put something right on the floor and then that would be really bad for the American public so I think that the right thing to do on a Supreme Court nominee is to meet with them, wait for the hearing,” Kaine told The Hill.

Kaine met with Trump’s Supreme Court on Thursday but isn’t expected to make a decision until after the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, which are slated to start Sept. 4.

“I want to always have a meeting with a Supreme Court nominee. I think it’s the single most important nomination that the Senate ever has to consider,” he said.

Kaine isn’t the only Democrat meeting with Kavanaugh. Trump’s pick has met with 65 senators so far, including 15 Democratic senators. Several —including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat — haven’t announced their position.

Progressives say the fight illustrates that Kaine and other Democrats meeting with Kavanaugh are out of touch with the party’s base.

“Trump’s nominee doesn’t deserve the courtesy of a meeting because Trump should not be able to make a nomination,” Hess said. “When Democrats are talking about meeting with him what they’re doing is legitimizing McConnell and Grassley’s rush to confirm him.”

Ivonne Wallace Fuentes — the leader of Roanoke Indivisible, a Virginia branch of the progressive Indivisible Project — said she personally thought it would be “prudent” if all Democratic senators were already out in opposition.

“I think we’re just going through literally an institutional earthquake. … I’m just not sure that the same steps people have taken in the past will be the ones that will help us in the future,” she said.  

The frustrations with Kaine, jokingly described as “America’s dad” during the presidential race, mirror their broader complaints about the caucus as a whole. They worry that Democrats — starting with Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) down to rank-and-file members — aren’t doing enough to build momentum behind opposing Kavanaugh.

Kaine is expected to glide to reelection this fall. His GOP opponent, Corey Stewart, has only nominal support at best from Washington Republicans, largely because of controversial statements he has made regarding the Civil War.

Virginia is still seen as a purple state, however, and Kaine watched in 2014 as Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) squeaked out a reelection victory.

Asked about the frustrations of progressive groups, Kaine said that senators need to balance their own political positions with the Senate’s “institutional role.”

“They’re entitled to advocate their position but we’re the ones who have to make a decision on what the right policy is,” Kaine said.

Kaine added that if more Democrats had held off announcing their position that could have forced Kavanaugh to have to meet with more senators. That in turn, according to Kaine, might have meant Kavanaugh’s hearings wouldn’t be starting the day after Labor Day and given Democrats more time to get information on Trump’s nominee.

“I really think the smart play for doing the job right would have been for all 49 Democrats to have a one-on-one meeting with Judge Kavanaugh,” he said.

He added that he stood up in a caucus meeting, after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement but before Kavanaugh was selected, and encouraged Democrats to say they wanted to meet the nominee.

It’s that sort of thinking that makes progressives worry senators are too focused on deferring to institutional norms, which they argue normalizes the Trump administration.

“Senator Kaine has always appeared to me to be … somebody who is deeply invested in our institutions [and] the rule of law,” Wallace Fuentes said. “I think all of that remains true, what has changed is the environment around him.”

Hess said Democrats were playing to the “power structures of D.C.” and allowing “a president that’s a racist … be treated with conventions of normalcy.”

Tags Charles Schumer Dick Durbin Mark Warner Merrick Garland Supreme Court Tim Kaine Virginia
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