Manchin Says He’s Undecided on Kavanaugh After Two-Hour Meeting

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia became the first Democrat in the chamber to meet with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and after the two-hour private session Monday the senator said he won’t decide how to vote until after a confirmation hearing.

“It was a very productive meeting. In two hours, you talk about everything,” said Manchin, one of only three Democrats to back President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, last year. Manchin is one of just a handful of senators whose votes are seen as in play in an increasingly partisan confirmation battle.

Senate Republicans are pledging a swift confirmation process that would elevate Kavanaugh, now a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington, before the Supreme Court’s new term convenes Oct. 1. No date has been set yet for Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings that may go past Labor Day and closer to the Nov. 6 congressional election.

Republicans control the Senate with a slim 51-49 majority, and can afford to lose only two GOP senators in order to elevate Kavanaugh to the high court. Two Republicans who support abortion rights -- Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- say they have yet to decide how they’ll vote. Groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America and the American Civil Liberties Union are running ads in their home states, seeking to sway their votes to “no.”

Complicating matters, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona is at home battling brain cancer.

GOP Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said Monday he’ll vote to confirm Kavanaugh, after previously criticizing the judge’s rulings as insufficiently protective of individual privacy.

Manchin is a top target of Kavanaugh supporters, in addition to two other Democrats from states Trump won in 2016 and who face voters this fall, Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. Senator Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat who won a December special election in the heavily Republican state, also is a top target of groups on both sides.

The group spending the most, the pro-Kavanaugh Judicial Crisis Network, says it has spent $4.5 million on ads designed to boost Kavanaugh since Trump announced his nomination on July 9. Of that total, $2 million has been allocated to West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana and Alabama.

Democrats and Republicans have fought over how many of up to 1 million pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s past work will be released, including those from his time as a top White House official under President George W. Bush.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said Friday that bipartisan talks on document releases broke down. Instead, he issued his own request to the National Archives staff at the George W. Bush Presidential Library that doesn’t include Kavanaugh’s three years as White House staff secretary under Bush. Kavanaugh held that job, in which he coordinated all documents to and from the president, from 2003 to 2006.

Instead, Grassley requested the release of records from Kavanaugh’s work under Bush as an associate White House counsel from 2001 to 2003.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer last week sent a letter to Bush, asking him to authorize release of the additional records. Schumer hasn’t received a response, according to his office.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.