Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski

Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski
© Getty Images

Red-state Senate Democrats, so far holding the line against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, are expected to wait on centrist Republican Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse PBS premieres first nationally distributed kids' show with Native American lead MORE (Alaska) before announcing their own positions.

No Democrat has yet come out in support of Kavanaugh, more than a week after his confirmation hearings wrapped up. Last year, Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' MORE (W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh MORE (N.D.) announced their support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, one week after his hearings ended. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Democratic leadership’s strategy is to keep the pressure on Collins and Murkowski by not letting anyone from their caucus break ranks and support Kavanaugh before the nominee is assured of having enough GOP votes to pass. 

Democrats are hoping the swing Republicans may be swayed by a new anonymous allegation of sexual misconduct from Kavanaugh’s high school days that Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has referred to federal authorities. 

Collins held a one-hour phone conversation with Kavanaugh on Friday, but it was scheduled before Feinstein announced the allegation. 

The two GOP moderates have split with their conference on major legislation in the past, including casting votes in defense of abortion rights and ObamaCare, issues that advocates point out could come before Kavanaugh on the high court.

Any Democrat who jumps out ahead of Collins or Murkowski would come under attack from the party’s base. As it is, centrist Democrats have come under criticism for staying neutral. 

“It is not an achievement for Democrats to have so far avoided endorsing Brett Kavanaugh. It would be an achievement if they oppose him,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, a group opposed to the nominee.

Last year, Collins announced her support for Gorsuch on March 28, two days before Manchin declared his backing, followed by Heitkamp and later Democratic Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (Ind.). Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly all face tough reelection races this year in states won by Trump in 2016.

Murkowski praised Gorsuch in glowing terms and signaled she would back him well before his confirmation hearing. 

Manchin says he is waiting for a second meeting with Kavanaugh before making up his mind on how to vote, and Heitkamp and Donnelly say they are still making up their minds.

“I closely watched Judge Kavanaugh’s hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee which answered some questions and also raised others. I continue to review his available record, will review the additional documents that continue to be released, and talk with North Dakotans as I continue my evaluation process,” Heitkamp said in a statement. 

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives Democratic senators want candidates to take Swalwell's hint and drop out MORE (D-Mont.), who also faces an election in a state Trump carried by double digits, said he’s waiting to meet with Kavanaugh in person before announcing his vote. 

“We haven’t got our in-person yet. We’re still trying to get that scheduled and I’ll make a decision after that,” Tester said Thursday. 

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (D-Mo.) stayed in Washington an extra day after the Senate adjourned on Wednesday evening so she could review “committee confidential” documents related to Kavanaugh that haven’t been made public. 

She hasn’t made up her mind yet, either. 

Republicans control 51 Senate seats and would have enough votes to confirm Kavanaugh without Democratic support as long as no more than one member of their conference defects. Vice President Pence would break a 50-50 tie. 

Centrist Democrats have shared the frustrations voiced by liberal colleagues on the committee who have complained that much of Kavanaugh’s record serving in the White House counsel’s office under former President George W. Bush was unfairly shielded from public scrutiny. 

Hundreds of thousands of pages of records were labeled committee confidential before the hearing began, and further documents from his time as White House staff secretary haven’t been released to the panel at all.

But aside from the squabbling over procedural questions, a senior Democratic aide acknowledged last week that Democrats on the panel “didn’t lay a glove” on Kavanaugh during the hearings. 

Like Gorsuch before him, Kavanaugh declined to reveal his views on hot-button topics such as abortion rights, acknowledging only that Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case, is an “important precedent.” 

Asked Thursday what was the biggest hit Democrats managed to score on Kavanaugh at the hearing, Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors MORE (D-R.I.), a member of the panel who was one of the most effective interrogators, shrugged and declined to answer.

He focused instead on the committee’s process, slamming it as “an unprecedented set of demolitions of the rules and traditions of the Senate.”

“We had real problems getting real answers to questions and we were denied traditionally available documents,” he said.