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Red-state Dems face nightmare scenario on Kavanaugh

Senate Democrats up for reelection this year in deep-red states face a nightmare decision on how to handle Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Vulnerable Democrats are hoping Republicans will force him to withdraw his nomination, allowing them to avoid politically divisive votes.

The Democrats in the toughest position are Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampFive takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate Sexual assault survivor named in Heitkamp ad: 'She definitely lost my vote' MORE (N.D.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDonnelly parodies 'Veep' in new campaign ad Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Poll: Dems lead in Indiana, West Virginia Senate races, tied in Nevada MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinElection Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Poll: Dems lead in Indiana, West Virginia Senate races, tied in Nevada McConnell defends Trump-backed lawsuit against ObamaCare MORE (W.Va.).

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Heitkamp and Manchin are undecided, and both are seeking another six-year term in states that Trump won by double digits in 2016. Donnelly is in much the same boat but said on Friday that he would vote "no" on Kavanaugh.

All three voted for President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE’s first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, in 2017.

But this time around the partisan divide is much more bitter: The seat Kavanaugh has been tapped to fill will likely determine the balance of the court for years, and a confirmation vote is slated to take place a month before Election Day.

The Democratic base is much more fired up about Kavanaugh than it was about Gorsuch, who was confirmed in April 2017.

Liberal activists staged a sit-in Monday at Manchin’s campaign office in West Virginia in an effort to pressure him to vote against the nominee. 

One Democratic senator, who requested anonymity, said there’s hopeful talk within the Senate Democratic Caucus that Kavanaugh will drop out, even though he has adamantly vowed to stay.

The lawmaker said Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (N.Y.) is urging undecided centrist Democrats to wait until three undecided Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Susan Collins and the mob mentality Graham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEx-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge Flake on Kavanaugh confirmation: To see GOP 'spiking the ball in the end zone' doesn't seem right MORE (Alaska) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMnuchin pulls out of Saudi conference The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference MORE (Ariz.) — make their positions known.

“He’s telling them, ‘Keep your powder dry.’ That means you don’t have to decide this — wait and see how it plays out. There’s some speculation that Kavanaugh may not last,” the lawmaker said. “They always vow to stay right until they don’t.”

A second Democratic senator said there’s widespread disbelief in the caucus that Kavanaugh is holding on.

“I just had a conversation with a colleague who said they couldn’t believe he hasn’t dropped out yet,” the second lawmaker said Monday evening. “There was a time he could have done it gracefully and could have protected the Supreme Court.”

The lawmaker said whether Kavanaugh keeps fighting “depends on what else the FBI finds and where the votes are” but observed that “public opinion is trending against him after his testimony Thursday.”

A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill on Monday found that 37 percent of registered voters want their senators to give Kavanaugh’s nomination the thumbs up, while 44 percent want them to vote down Trump’s nominee.

Eighteen percent of respondents were undecided in the survey conducted from Sept. 29 to 30, two days after Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to give testimony regarding her allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in 1982, when they were both in high school.

One previously undecided Democrat, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterElection Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Protesters spell 'LIAR' on Montana mountain ahead of Trump's arrival The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (Mont.), who is up for reelection in a state Trump won by 20 points, came out against Kavanaugh the day after the nominee’s angry rebuttal of Ford’s allegation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Poll finds Dems prioritize health care, GOP picks lower taxes when it's time to vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE (R-Ky.), however, said he will force vulnerable Democrats to vote on the nominee.

“The time for endless delay and obstruction has come to a close,” he said on the floor Monday. “We’ll be voting this week.”

Kavanaugh vowed last week to stick it out, no matter what.

“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” he declared in his opening statement to the Judiciary Committee.

A day after his testimony, Senate GOP leaders agreed to a request from Flake to delay a Senate floor vote on Kavanaugh to give the FBI time to investigate the allegations against him. That probe is expected to be completed later this week.

Heitkamp suggested at a campaign stop Friday in North Dakota that Trump and GOP leaders could defuse the situation by finding another nominee, who would have just enough time to be confirmed before Congress adjourns for the year.

“There’s a lot of lawyers in America who can sit on the court,” she said in Grand Forks, according to The Associated Press. “I think this idea that there’s only one person that can do this job, we all need to recalibrate.”

Senate aides see Heitkamp as less likely to support Kavanaugh than Manchin because she has a stronger record defending abortion rights. His confirmation could tip the court’s balance against Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established abortion rights nationwide.

Heitkamp may also feel more pressure to believe Ford’s allegation, which has exposed a significant gender divide among the electorate.

A recent USA Today–Ipsos Public Affairs poll showed that 35 percent of women nationwide believe Ford’s accusation, while only 21 percent of men do. Women oppose Kavanaugh 43 percent to 23 percent, while men support him 40 percent to 36 percent.

Donnelly said last week, after Thursday’s Senate hearing, that he would “gladly welcome the opportunity to work with President Trump on a new nominee for this critically important position.”

Manchin has kept in close contact with undecided Republicans during the Kavanaugh debate.

He met with Collins, Murkowski and Flake in a Capitol Hill hideaway after Ford and Kavanaugh testified Thursday and, like them, didn’t give any hint afterward about how he would vote.

“We’re friends. We talk. There’s no decisions on anything. No one told me they made a decision, and we’re all still looking and talking and comparing,” Manchin told reporters after the meeting.

Donnelly said he would oppose Kavanaugh because he didn’t have enough information to assess the allegations against him, though he left himself a little bit of room to support the nominee if the FBI probe fails to turn up any corroborating evidence.

He cited the lack of a supplemental FBI investigation and his own inability “to get all information necessary” as reasons for his opposition.

Donnelly declined to answer a question Monday about whether he would be open to changing his position.

Trump has sent signals that he may now be of a mixed opinion about Kavanaugh.

On Friday he described Ford as “a very fine woman” and “very credible.”

The president on Monday said he was “surprised” at how vocal Kavanaugh “was about the fact that he likes beer and he’s had a little bit of difficulty.”

Trump noted that while he himself never drank, he saw a lot of people drinking in high school.

“They’d drink beer then go crazy,” he said in comments that appeared to undercut the nominee’s defense of his drinking habits.

But Trump also wants red-state Democrats to pay a political price if Kavanaugh goes down.

Trump chewed out McConnell 11 days ago in a private phone call from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., for letting Kavanaugh’s nomination drag on, according to The New York Times.

The president later told associates that senators should have been forced to vote down Kavanaugh and suffer the political backlash, the Times reported.

But vulnerable Democrats wouldn’t be the only ones put in a tough spot with a floor vote. Collins, Flake and Murkowski, while not up for reelection this year, all have their political futures to consider if the Senate holds a confirmation vote on Kavanaugh.

Flake is retiring from Congress in early January. Collins is up for reelection in 2020, followed by Murkowski in 2022.

Republican candidates running for Senate against red-state Democrats have used Kavanaugh's nomination to go on the attack.

Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerFive takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate Sexual assault survivor named in Heitkamp ad: 'She definitely lost my vote' MORE (R-N.D.) has called Ford’s accusations “absurd” and criticized Democrats for orchestrating a campaign against the nominee.

“At some point Brett Kavanaugh deserves due process,” Cramer said in a radio interview. “You can’t just stage these allegations to delay the Supreme Court.”

Indiana businessman Mike Braun (R) has accused Donnelly of being “more concerned with standing with his liberal Democrat leaders than standing for Hoosiers.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who is running against Manchin, has accused his opponent of being “complicit in Senate Democrats’ disgraceful treatment of President Trump’s Supreme Court pick.”

The Senate Leadership Fund, whose president and CEO, Steven Law, is McConnell’s former chief of staff, highlighted a Republican poll Friday showing that 58 percent of West Virginians support confirming Kavanaugh, while 28 percent oppose him. The survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a GOP polling firm, for the Judicial Crisis Network, a group that is spending more than $1 million on ads targeting red-state Democrats in an effort to pressure them to support Kavanaugh.

Some Republicans say centrist Democrats will be tempted to seize on any potential failure by the FBI investigation as a reason to vote for Kavanaugh.

“It’s a really terrible vote for them,” said a senior GOP aide.

Manchin on Monday said a lot would depend on the findings of the FBI probe.

“This investigation’s going to tell a lot,” he said.