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 HawleyLawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision GOP senator plans to ask about Bidens, whistleblower in impeachment trial Overnight Health Care: Trump becomes first sitting president to attend March for Life | Officials confirm second US case of coronavirus | Trump officials threaten California funding over abortion law 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 TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet 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.

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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 KavanaughCollins challenger Sara Gideon raises .5 million in fourth quarter of 2019 Democrats Manchin, Jones signal they're undecided on Trump removal vote Collins walks impeachment tightrope 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.

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"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 ErnstBiden calls out Iowa GOP senator's impeachment comments: 'She spilled the beans' GOP Iowa senator suggests Trump impeachment defense could hurt Biden at caucuses Republicans show little enthusiasm for impeachment witness swap 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 CottonOvernight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — HHS has no plans to declare emergency over coronavirus | GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop outbreak | Warren releases plan to contain infectious diseases Hillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision MORE (R-Ark.) has also raised questions about Rao.

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

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP confident of win on witnesses GOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight 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."