Trump in good shape to secure second Supreme Court confirmation victory

Trump in good shape to secure second Supreme Court confirmation victory
© Greg Nash

Brett Kavanaugh is in good shape for winning confirmation to the Supreme Court following a week of hearings and some tough questioning from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE’s second nominee, who could significantly shift the court’s balance to the right by replacing retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy with a more solid conservative, avoided major landmines that might have threatened his support.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Overnight Health Care: McConnell offering bill to raise tobacco-buying age to 21 | NC gov vetoes 'born alive' abortion bill | CMS backs off controversial abortion proposal HR 1 brings successful local, state reforms to the federal level and deserves passage MORE (R-Ky.) appeared confident that Kavanaugh would be on the court before a new term starts on Oct. 1, arguing his performance during the days-long grilling locked up his nomination.

“I think any doubts anybody might have had have been dispelled by his virtuoso performance before the Judiciary Committee," McConnell told Hugh Hewitt.  

Conservatives also hailed Kavanaugh’s handling of the hearings.

“Look there are 21 senators on the committee, so if you liken this to a baseball game I think he scored runs in all 21 innings with no errors,” the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky said on the organization’s SCOTUS 101 podcast.

The next hurdle for Kavanaugh will be clearing the Judiciary Committee. The panel will likely hold a vote about Sept. 20.

Democrats sought to nail down Kavanaugh’s views, or force him into an error or gaffe, on several controversial issues, including his views on abortion and executive power. But over two days of questioning, he was largely able to sidestep questions by citing the need for judicial independence.

On NPR’s Morning Edition, Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain MORE (D-Del.), who has not announced his position, characterized Kavanaugh as “quite artful” at avoiding direct answers to his questions.

He also said he believed Trump had picked Kavanaugh for the court with abortion and questions surrounding his own presidency in mind.

“A number of senators made telling points I think about the timing of when Judge Kavanaugh moved from not being on President Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees to being on the list,” Coons said.

“It did coincide with his writing a pretty striking case about abortion and with a number of his opinions and statements around presidential power and I think both of those may well have influenced his being finally selected,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference Pelosi: Barr press briefing a 'staggering partisan effort' MORE (D-N.Y.), who has faced pressure from the left to ensure a tough path for Kavanaugh, issued a statement that his party had had a good week with the hearings.

“Democrats were able to shine a bright light — for the American people and Republican Senators to see — on Judge Kavanaugh’s troubling views on women’s rights, presidential power and protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” he said. “Instead of answering questions, Judge Kavanaugh spent 30 hours dodging questions and saying as little as possible, despite the fact that the president has vastly overreached his power and promised to appoint a justice that would overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Once Kavanaugh reaches the Senate floor, he needs a simple majority to be confirmed after Republicans went “nuclear” to get rid of the 60-vote filibuster last year.

Republicans got a boost when Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was sworn in to succeed Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders Juan Williams: The high price of working for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.). McCain had been absent from Washington since late last year as he battled brain cancer, shrinking Republicans’ already narrow two-seat margin down to one.

Kyl served as Kavanaugh’s “sherpa” on Capitol Hill throughout the nomination process, leaving little question about how he will vote. With Kyl, Democrats now need to peel off two Republicans and keep their own caucus united to sink Kavanaugh.

Getting a Republican senator to vote against Trump’s pick would mark a significant victory for Democrats months before a midterm election where control of Congress hangs in the balance, but the pool of potential GOP opponents is small.

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Collins backs having Mueller testify Graham says he's 'not interested' in Mueller testifying MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed License to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America MORE (Alaska) are viewed as the two most likely Republican swing votes. They’ve broken with their party on ObamaCare repeal, abortion legislation and other Trump nominees, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosThe 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Blackwater founder Erik Prince helped fund effort tied to obtaining Clinton's emails GOP lawmaker calls for investigation into alleged 'anti-Israeli bias' at Duke-UNC conference MORE.

Both Republican senators say they haven’t made a decision, but are speaking positively about Kavanaugh.

“So far I haven't heard anything that is earthshaking, something that hasn't been out there as a point of discussion before,” Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News.

Collins spoke positively about Kavanaugh after their meeting last month, including that he told her he believes Roe v. Wade is “settled law.” She told reporters that she hadn’t had time to review a 2003 email where Kavanaugh suggested cutting a paragraph from an draft op-ed that characterized Roe as “widely accepted” to be settled law.

But an aide for Collins suggested that the email doesn’t contradict the comments Kavanaugh previously made to the GOP senator.

“The email does not contradict Judge Kavanaugh’s statements that he believes Roe to be settled law and that he agrees it is important precedent,” Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, told the Portland Press Herald.

Few other Republicans remain undecided. GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (Ariz.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, hasn’t announced his position but said he is “inclined” to support Kavanaugh.

The uphill battle Democrats face in blocking Kavanaugh’s nomination is at odds with the lukewarm public polling that has plagued Trump’s nominee.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Friday found that 38 percent believed he should be confirmed, while 39 percent believed he shouldn’t. The support for Kavanaugh, according to the poll, is lower than any other recent nominee except for Harriet Miers and Robert Bork — neither of whom were confirmed to the court.

More Democrats began coming out against Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday as his hearings formally wrapped up.

“Kavanaugh should not be confirmed to the Supreme Court ... because he cannot be counted on to serve as an independent check on the president or to uphold critical precedents that affect the wellbeing of millions of Americans,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Dems ask Justice Dept to release findings of Acosta-Epstein investigation MORE (D-Va.).

Several red-state Democrats, running for reelection in states won by Trump, remain on the fence.

Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySome in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care MORE (Ind.) are widely viewed as the three Democrats most likely to vote "yes" on Kavanaugh. They each voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch's confirmation.

Manchin sat in for part of the Judiciary Committee’s hearing and told reporters this week that Kavanaugh “handled himself very professionally.”

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which spent millions on ad campaigns to get Kavanaugh confirmed, said red-state Democrats should distance themselves from the “histrionics and extremism” of their colleagues and announce their support for the nominee now.

“Senators Manchin, Heitkamp, Donnelly and other red state Democrats should distance themselves from this extremist behavior,” Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel and policy director, said in a statement.

Republicans say they believe they’ll pick up some bipartisan support for Kavanaugh.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJudiciary chairman issues subpoena for full Mueller report The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Barr to allow some lawmakers to review less-redacted Mueller report as soon as next week MORE (R-S.C.) told Kavanaugh during the hearings that he’s likely to get 55 votes. He said there were 11 undecided senators before the hearing.

“Three of them are Republicans. I like your chances. Eight of them are Democrat,” he said. “You’re in play with about five or six of them.”