Kavanaugh and Vice President Mike Pence met Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The meeting came at almost the same time that Senate Democrats held a rally against Kavanaugh in front of the Supreme Court, an event led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing in the coming weeks.
Kavanaugh also met later Tuesday with the committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, for what Grassley described as a “pleasant conversation.”
“We’re going to have a thorough process. Hopefully it’s efficient, we get it done quickly,” he said, adding later, “In the end, I think his record will speak for itself.”
The pick of Kavanaugh announced Monday night immediately launched the highly polarized fight in the US Senate, testing both sides’ ability to unify their ranks just months ahead of the hugely consequential midterm elections.
With Republicans holding a 51-49 majority – and Sen. John McCain recovering from cancer treatment in Arizona and away from Washington since December – neither side appears to have any room to lose votes.
While the Senate’s leaders have been outspoken, all eyes are on senators closer to the middle of the ideological spectrum. Republicans are targeting Democrats up for re-election in states President Donald Trump won in 2016 – of which there are 10, not including Sen. Doug Jones, who’s not up for re-election this year but hails from ruby red Alabama.
Democrats in turn hope to peel off some Republicans including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and/or Susan Collins of Maine, two senators who support abortion rights and have split with their party before on whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“Now is the time to demand a justice who will protect our health care, not strike it down,” Schumer said Tuesday. “Now is the time to demand a justice who recognizes a woman’s personal liberty, a right to make her own health care choices, instead of one who will put the government between a woman and her doctor. Now is the time to fight for the freedoms and rights that all Americans deserve, and that’s what’s at stake with this Supreme Court nomination.
What key senators are saying
Collins told reporters on Tuesday it’s “premature to render a judgment” on Kavanaugh and she said she wants to question him extensively about his record.
Murkowski told CNN Tuesday that her vetting of the nominee will take weeks, not days, and says all senators need to do their “due diligence” before deciding how to vote.
“I don’t have an impression on Judge Kavanaugh as to where he may fall on the issue of abortion as well as the many other issues that I will weigh as we move forward with this process,” Murkowski said. “So again, that’s why I think all of us need to be doing our due diligence.”
Democrats have sought to frame the Supreme Court fight in part about how a potential Justice Kavanaugh would rule on health care. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and a key swing vote, has repeatedly highlighted the issue of helping those with pre-existing health conditions, a class of health care recipient protected under the Affordable Care Act
“I got 800,000 people in jeopardy … I’m going to look at all the findings and records he’s ruled on,” he said of Kavanaugh, adding “the more information, the better it’s going to be” when asked about releasing Kavanaugh’s emails from when he worked in the Bush administration.
Another vulnerable Democrat up for re-election – Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana – made similar comments Tuesday, saying whether pre-existing conditions can still be covered under Obamacare will be a “central part of this nomination,” noting that he supported the law and expanded coverage for his constituents.