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 HawleyGovernment regulation of social media would kill the internet — and free speech Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech Twitter unlocks McConnell's campaign account after GOP boycott 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 TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated 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 KavanaughLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' Sen. Susan Collins: Israel should allow Omar, Tlaib to visit 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 ErnstAir Force probe finds no corroboration of sexual assault allegations against Trump pick Gun control activists set to flex muscle in battle for Senate Businesses, farmers brace for new phase in Trump trade war 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 CottonCongress must address gender gap in nominations to military service academies GOP senators press Google on reports it developed a smart speaker with Huawei Sunday shows - Mass shootings grab the spotlight 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 GrahamGraham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan 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."