Senate

Democrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die

Democrats say they see the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as not only a big issue in the November midterms but also in the 2020 election cycle, once Kavanaugh has had an impact on landmark legal decisions.

Strategists are already planning to raise money and put operatives on the ground in states with competitive Senate races in 2020 in an effort to inflict damage on a group of vulnerable Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Tom Thillis (N.C.), who all voted to confirm the conservative nominee.

{mosads}”Kavanaugh’s going to provide the fifth vote on all kinds of controversial decisions that are probably going to be very far reaching, and when he does it will remind people anew that that 5-to-4 decision was only made possible because of Kavanaugh,” said Brian Fallon, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide who is now executive director of Demand Justice, an advocacy group that opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“My group is going to spend a lot of money and time in the next two years doing accountability work in states like Colorado and Maine and Iowa and North Carolina,” he added.

Democratic strategist James Carville told CNN over the weekend that his party won’t let go of Kavanaugh, who was sworn in as the ninth member of the high court on Saturday. He previously served 12 years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“For the Democrats, Kavanaugh’s worth a lot more alive than dead,” Carville said. “This is not going to go away.”

“They’re going to keep him front and center,” he added. “If the Democrats win the House, they’ll probably hold some kind of hearings on the fact that a lot of people think he perjured himself during his confirmation hearing to the court of appeals.”

Some strategists, however, worry that re-litigating Kavanaugh’s confirmation between now and the Nov. 6 midterm elections could hurt Senate Democrats who voted against the nominee and are up for reelection in states President Trump carried by double digits in 2016.

Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) are already coming under Republican attack for their “no” votes.

Strategists say it’s a better issue for Democrats in 2020, when Trump is up for reelection and Senate Republicans have to defend Democratic-leaning and swing states.

The vitriolic Supreme Court debate has fired up Trump supporters, strategists warn, and that could hurt Democratic candidates at the polls next month.

“I actually think that Kavanaugh has energized the Trump voters and has energized the Republicans,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. “We need to make sure that the anger that Democrats are feeling is turned into votes instead of protests.”

Part of that pivot, she said, requires a renewed focus on the issues that may come before the court when Kavanaugh is on the bench.

“What’s really important is for us to shift off Kavanaugh and get back to Roe v. Wade, women’s health and health care,” she said, referring to the landmark Supreme Court case that established a nationwide right to abortion. “If you’re running in a red state, it’s problematic.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is trying to move party candidates off talk of impeaching Kavanaugh and instead have them work toward boosting voter turnout next month.

In a step viewed as mollifying angry liberals in her party, Pelosi on Sunday announced in a “Dear Colleague” letter that she would be filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the FBI report on the allegations against Kavanaugh, as well as related transcripts, instructions from the White House and communications with Senate Republicans about the scope of the agency’s investigation.

But she also told colleagues: “We must not agonize, we must organize. People must vote.”

A senior Democratic aide said, “Pelosi’s ‘Dear Colleague’ letter is clear guidance to members. Yes, she will try to get the documents to set the record straight, but now is not the time to focus on Kavanaugh. Focus on winning in November.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is poised to take over as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee if Democrats capture the lower chamber in November, says he will investigate Kavanaugh for sexual misconduct and perjury.

“We are going to have to do something to provide a check and balance, to protect the rule of law and to protect the legitimacy of one of our most important institutions,” he told The New York Times on Friday.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed the same.

“As soon as Democrats get gavels, we’re going to want to get to the bottom of this,” Whitehouse said last month, referring to Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago.

Democrats said the FBI’s supplemental investigation of Kavanaugh last week was far too circumscribed to find any corroborating evidence, which it didn’t, to Ford’s accusation.

Mike Lux, a Democratic strategist and former political adviser to President Clinton, said Kavanaugh will be an ongoing liability for the GOP.

“Given the fact that there’s clear evidence that he perjured himself, which there is, then I think it’s perfectly appropriate for legislative bodies to investigate,” he said.

“As high profile a nomination battle as this was, as controversial as it was and the fact that Kavanaugh is going to be the swing vote on a lot of issues, I think people are going to be looking at what Kavanaugh does very, very closely,” he said.

“The Republicans are going to have to own every one of the unpopular decisions he makes on the court. If he votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, all the Republicans are going to have to own that,” he added. “If he overturns [the Affordable Care Act] and the protections around pre-existing conditions, they will have to own that.”

Republicans, however, say they aren’t worried.

“These things always blow over,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Saturday.

He said that he would make defending Collins, one of the Democrats’ top targets for 2020, his highest priority in the next election cycle.

Collins hasn’t yet said whether she will run for reelection, and her spokeswoman said she won’t discuss 2020 until after the November midterms.

Gardner is also atop the Democratic 2020 hit list but says he’s not concerned about blowback.

“This is about the country and finding a justice who will do what’s right under the law, that’s the most important thing,” Gardner said when asked about potential political fallout from his Kavanaugh vote.

Ron Bonjean, a former Senate and House Republican leadership aide, predicted that Democrats will have a tough time making Kavanaugh an issue in the next election cycle.

“Their strategy is based on hypothetical decisions that haven’t come down the pike yet,” he said. “They may be protesting Kavanaugh and at the same time look very out of touch doing it because our country will likely move on from this.”

“You’d rather spend your time talking about the issues of the day that the country really cares about instead of looking in the rearview mirror,” he said.

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Claire McCaskill Cory Gardner Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp Joe Donnelly Jon Tester Joni Ernst Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Sheldon Whitehouse Susan Collins
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