Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski

Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski
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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 CollinsOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force House Dems follow Senate action with resolution to overturn IRS donor disclosure guidance Senate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse funding bill scraps Arctic icebreaker program Senate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips The Senate must reject Bernard McNamee’s nomination for FERC 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) ManchinOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — New momentum for privacy legislation | YouTube purges spam videos | Apple plans B Austin campus | Iranian hackers targeted Treasury officials | FEC to let lawmakers use campaign funds for cyber Manchin puts hold on FCC nomination over wireless internet fund delay MORE (W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches House passes bipartisan bill aimed at reversing rising maternal mortality rates MORE (N.D.) announced their support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpProsecutors investigating Trump inaugural fund, pro-Trump super PAC for possible illegal foreign donations: NY Times George Conway: Why take Trump's word over prosecutors' if he 'lies about virtually everything' Federal judge says lawsuit over Trump travel ban waivers will proceed MORE’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, one week after his hearings ended. 

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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 FeinsteinSenate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation Dems demand Pompeo brief Congress on whether he discussed Assange with Ecuadorian official 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 DonnellyHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches Schumer gets ready to go on the offensive 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) TesterSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure Senate confirms Trump's pick to be deputy Treasury secretary O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold 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 McCaskillMcCaskill: 'Too many embarrassing uncles' in the Senate FEC votes to allow lawmakers to use campaign funds for personal cybersecurity McCaskil 'not sure' Sanders, Harris, Warren can win Missouri in 2020 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 WhitehouseDems ask if Trump aide Bill Shine is breaking ethics laws Senators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe Dems vs. Trump: Breaking down the lawsuits against Whitaker 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.