GOP senator hits back in fight over Kavanaugh successor

GOP senator hits back in fight over Kavanaugh successor
© Greg Nash

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount US ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out Trump judicial nominee delayed amid GOP pushback MORE (R-Mo.) is going on offense as he's come under fire from some conservatives for his skepticism about one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails MORE's picks for a key appeals court.

Hawley, in an op-ed for The Federalist, pledged that he would ask "tough questions" and "challenge conventional wisdom" when it comes to judicial nominations, despite potential criticism.

"I know what a strong constitutional judge should do and say, and I’m not going to let other people, and certainly not the Washington establishment, do my thinking for me," Hawley wrote.

Hawley's op-ed comes as he's come under criticism for publicly raising concerns about Neomi Rao, Trump's nominee to succeed Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMajority disapprove of Trump Supreme Court nominations, says poll These 3 women are defining the race to unseat Trump On The Money: Supreme Court takes up challenge to CFPB | Warren's surge brings scrutiny to wealth tax | Senators eye curbs on Trump emergency powers MORE on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that Hawley "joins the left in trashing" Rao and argued that the GOP senator was trying to use a "litmus test" on Trump's nominee. Hawley fired back on Twitter that the editorial was "embarrassing."

Hawley's concerns have also put him in the crosshairs of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group deeply involved in the fight over confirming Trump's nominees, which announced that it would run ads in Missouri on Rao's nomination.

Axios first reported over the weekend that Hawley had concerns about Rao's nomination. He's supposed to meet with Rao on Wednesday, a day before the Judicial Committee is scheduled to vote on her nomination.

Hawley expanded on his concerns about Rao and her views on abortion in a letter to her that was publicly released by his office on Tuesday.

"Understanding that lower court judges are bound by precedent, I will not vote to confirm nominees whom I believe will expand substantive due process precedents like Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania," Hawley wrote in the letter.

Hawley added that he questioned Rao's "judicial philosophy and approach to constitutional law," including "concerns" about some of Rao's academic writings.

Republicans have a 12-10 majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, meaning that Republicans could send Rao's nomination to the Senate floor even if Hawley voted "no," as long as every other Republican on the panel voted "yes."

Since Republicans hold a 53-seat majority in the Senate, they could lose three Republicans and still confirm Rao.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Farmers: New Trump ethanol proposal reneged on previous deal Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate MORE (R-Iowa), a member of the committee, had previously raised concerns about Rao's college writings on date rape. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Lawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip MORE (R-Ark.) has also raised questions about Rao.

Judicial nominations are a top priority for Republicans, who confirmed Trump's 31st circuit court pick on Tuesday.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump weighs leaving some troops in Syria to 'secure the oil' | US has pulled 2,000 troops from Afghanistan | Pelosi leads delegation to Afghanistan, Jordan US troops leaving Syria cross into Iraq Graham says he's open-minded on supporting impeachment: 'Sure, I mean show me something that is a crime' MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a vote for Rao on Thursday.

"I really like Josh. He's really smart. I think she's extremely qualified and very mainstream in her thinking," Graham told reporters on Tuesday evening. "So we'll see what happens, but hopefully we can resolve any differences."