Facing Long Odds on Kavanaugh, Democrats Make It All About Trump
(Bloomberg) -- Facing an uphill battle to derail Donald Trump’s second nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Senate Democrats fanned out on Sunday to cast Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight as a referendum on White House accountability.
Liberals fear that elevating Kavanaugh to the nine-person court could create the most conservative panel since the 1930s and lead to legal reversals on precedents including women’s abortion rights.
Yet, despite the variety of policies concerns, Democrats girding for a final fight to block Kavanaugh are focused on what they consider a more pressing threat: Trump himself.
Some of Kavanaugh’s previous judicial decisions “suggest he has a very broad view of presidential power” that may amount to an “accountability shield” for Trump, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“That ought to be a concern for everybody watching -- Republican, Democrat, independent -- because whether it’s this administration or a future one, I think all of us have an interest in the rule of law and in a president who’s not above the law,” Coons said.
Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee, cited Kavanaugh’s views on executive privilege and the intersection with the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.
“The issue of the moment, clearly, is this situation with the Mueller investigation,” Durbin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “And the important element that we shouldn’t overlook is that Kavanaugh has been explicit in saying the president should not be subject to investigation or prosecution during his term in office.”
During days of raucous confirmation hearings last week, Kavanaugh, 53, an appellate judge who once worked for the independent counsel that investigated President Bill Clinton, largely side-stepped questions about Mueller’s investigation and separate probes by federal prosecutors in New York related to Trump.
Kavanaugh said he’d keep an “open mind” if he were asked to consider a law that protected a special counsel against being fired by the president.
Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, echoed Coons’s concerns about Kavanaugh’s willingness to check Trump.
“I’m strongly inclined to vote against Judge Kavanaugh, not only because of his views on issues like women’s reproductive health and workers’ rights and gay rights,” Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “I’m very concerned that this judge’s outside-the-mainstream-views on executive power, with a president that is this dangerous, in many ways, disqualifies him.”
While many Democrats are expected to oppose Kavanaugh, he appears on track be confirmed to replace the now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Republicans control the Senate 51-49, and Vice President Mike Pence would get to vote in the case of a tie.
Some Democrats running for re-election in states won handily by Trump in 2016, including West Virginia, Indiana and North Dakota, could support Kavanaugh’s nomination. A week ago, before the confirmation hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, predicted Kavanaugh may be confirmed easily, with about 55 votes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week he’s confident Kavanaugh will be confirmed, and that the only hope of Democrats appears to be getting a few Republicans to oppose the nominee in the next few weeks. Thus far, none have committed to doing so.
Some opponents hope that two Republicans who support abortion rights -- Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- will vote against Kavanaugh over concerns he could vote to overturn legal precedent on abortion rights. Neither lawmaker has said how she’ll vote.
By casting Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a check on Trump, Democrats may be hoping to pick off senators who’ve critical of Trump’s leadership. That effort appears to have fallen flat with Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska who’s been critical of Trump at times. On Sunday, Sasse praised Trump for picking Kavanaugh and lauded the judge’s performance in last week’s hearings.
“The judicial nominees have been really good,” Sasse said on CNN. “Brett Kavanaugh did a good job of showing judicial temperament, judicial restraint.”
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