Senators Key To Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Keeping An ‘Open Mind’

on February 15, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

The Senate Republicans and Democrats who are being watched most closely in the fight to confirm President Trump’s newly-minted Supreme Court pick were not eager to show their cards the day after the selection of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy was announced.

“I am going to be able to give you more of a reaction after I have an opportunity for more thorough review,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), whose support for Kavanaugh is crucial given her role in sinking the Senate GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts and her position in favor of abortion rights, which could be at risk if Kavanaugh is confirmed.

“Look at my statement,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is facing a costly re-election battle, said repeatedly when asked about his thoughts  on the judge.

Republicans leaders said they were hopeful that they’d be able to secure bipartisan support for Kavanaugh, an extremely conservative judge on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. With the margin tight — a single Republican defection could tank the nominee if Democrats unanimously oppose him — there is already pressure from Kavanaugh’s supporters on red state Democrats to back Kavanaugh. Three Democrats voted in favor of confirming Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“We are accumulating all of his decisions right now…the writings that he’s made,” said Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who is up for re-election in November and voted for Gorsuch. “We look forward to having a meeting with him. I presume he’ll come over. And then I’ll start to make the decision.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), another yes vote for Gorsuch who’s up for re-election in 2018, declined to give her thoughts on the nominee, as her aide instructed reporters to refer to her statement from Monday evening,

“I haven’t met with him, so I don’t know,” Heitkamp said.

Even Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who announced his opposition to Gorsuch immediately after his selection was announced, said he was withholding his decision on Kavanaugh until he had the opportunity to meet him.

Brown said he never felt pressure to do things that are “wrong” and that he was “troubled” generally with the direction of the court in decisions siding with corporations over workers. He also alluded to a lawsuit challenging Obamacare’s protections for consumers with pre-existing conditions that’s expected to make it to the Supreme Court.

“I want to look him in the eye and talk to him about pre-existing conditions because there are literally millions of Ohioans who would potentially lose their insurance if these five men on the court would take away their consumer protections,” Brown said.

A key question is whether Democrats who may ultimately support Kavanaugh will wait to announce their vote until after Kavanaugh has secured the support of all 50 GOP senators (not counting Republican Sen. John McCain who is undergoing cancer treatments in Arizona, assuming he is unable to return for a confirmation vote).

Republican leaders indicated they would like to move briskly on the confirmation process, aiming to confirm Kavanaugh in the roughly two-month time frame that Justices Gorsuch and Elena Kagan won confirmation votes after their nominations were announced.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), like Murkowski, has expressed concerned about a Supreme Court reversal on abortion rights — cemented in the landmark decision Roe v. Wade — and has defied GOP leadership in the past, including on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“I believe the judge has impressive credentials, he clearly has extensive experience having spent more than a decade as a judge on the D.C. circuit,” Collins said. “Never the less, I obviously want the opportunity to sit down with him one on one and to get a better sense of his judicial philosophy.”

She said that Kavananugh should not have to answer direct questions about Roe v. Wade, but that “there are other ways to get at the issue.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is another Republican vote to watch, given his libertarian views on privacy, which are at odds with some of Kavanaugh’s decisions.

Paul at first declined to answer questions about Kavanaugh Tuesday. But when asked specifically about a Kavanaugh opinion upholding the government’s collection of phone metadata without a warrant, Paul said that he was “keeping an open mind” and would “follow the process.”

Murkowski pointed to the “Republicans and Democrats alike” who have already have announced their vote on Kavanaugh.

“In my view, they’re not doing what it is that we need to do, which is to take this role of advice and consent seriously and do our homework,” Murkowksi said. “There’s a lot to look at with Judge Kavanaugh.”

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