President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is kicking his closed-door meetings with senators into high gear Wednesday, all as the parameters of the fight over his nomination start to settle in around him.
Democrats have targeted health care, abortion rights and past writings on presidential investigations in the initial stages of their push to sink Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. Kavanaugh’s extensive paper trail – not just in his 12 years on the bench, but also from his time in the Bush administration – and the fight over what senators will get access to review is becoming the latest key fight to keep a very close eye on.
But perhaps more important than all of those issues, at least from a confirmation prospects perspective: Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska made clear that while they’re both in the earliest of stages of reviewing Kavanaugh’s record, they both find him to be “qualified” for the position.
Bottom line: There’s a long way to go in this process, and Collins and Murkowski plan plenty of deep dives into Kavanaugh’s written record, not to mention their one-on-one sit downs with him. But for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – whose primary goal is to lock in all 50 present Republicans – Collins and Murkowski certainly haven’t raised any significant red flags yet.
GOP officials have told CNN they are targeting a confirmation hearing in late August – an aggressive timeline, but one that would set up a mid-September vote.
Sen. John Cornyn told CNN’s Ted Barrett that an August hearing “is entirely realistic.”
That said, it is a decision that is entirely up to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, and the Iowa Republican made clear to CNN’s Manu Raju on Tuesday that he needs time to get his arms around the scale of the documents and review process before he locks in a timeline.
Which underscores the importance of this: Republicans argue that Kavanaugh’s time as White House staff secretary has little to nothing to do with his judicial philosophy or perspective. Democrats, eager to dig into everything Kavanaugh may have played a role in – or even seen – want every document they can get, a number Senate aides say is likely in the millions.
Why Kavanaugh’s paper trail matters
First, Democratic aides who are keen on blocking Kavanaugh’s nomination believe they will find damaging information -- be it through some kind of role played in controversial Bush-era policies or programs or otherwise.
“Obviously the more there is, the more opportunities there are to highlight why he’s problematic,” one senior Democratic aide said, adding that given it’s a lifetime appointment, Democrats should have access to everything that exists. (Republicans, noting the sheer number of documents that cross a staff secretary’s desk, many of which Kavanaugh had little or nothing to do with, disagree with this assessment – strongly.)
Second, clear and simple: the confirmation process timeline. More extensive document production – particularly to the scale Democrats appear ready to request – will take time and could push back the current aggressive target for hearings and votes. Democrats, who at this point are looking for any and all opportunities to extend the process as they attempt to rally a significant grassroots burst of opposition to the pick, certainly would be pleased by that development.
Remember: This is precisely what McConnell flagged for Trump as a potential problem with Kavanaugh’s nomination: Never that he wasn’t qualified, but that his extensive time in government service, and the documents that come with it, can not only lead to possible surprises and also give Democrats grounds – legitimate or not – to delay consideration of the nomination.
Kavanaugh’s meetings Wednesday
As is tradition, after his meeting Tuesday with McConnell, the nominee will go through Judiciary Committee members before moving onto the broader Senate. It’s still not finalized, aides say, when he’ll hold his first meeting with Democrats – whether leadership or on the committee.
As of Wednesday morning, Kavanaugh is scheduled to meet with Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.