Senate

Trump in good shape to secure second Supreme Court confirmation victory

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 Trump'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.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Coons (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 Schumer (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 McCain (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 Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (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 DeVos.

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 Flake (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 Kaine (D-Va.).

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

Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (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 Graham (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."

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