WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer declared an all-out battle to block the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — who could become the court’s decisive conservative vote — as Kavanaugh began making the rounds Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
A day after revealing his choice, Trump sent to the Senate his nomination of Kavanaugh, 53, now a judge on the influential U.S. Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, officially starting the Senate confirmation process that the White House aims to finish in about two months.
But that process promises to be fraught with drama as two Republican and three Democratic undecided senators — and possibly others — could determine whether Kavanaugh wins confirmation in a Senate where the GOP hold a narrow 51-49 majority.
One of the two Republicans being wooed by Democrats, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), told reporters Tuesday that Kavanaugh “clearly is qualified for the job, but there are other issues involving judicial temperament and his judicial philosophy that also will play into my decision.”
On his first day as nominee, Kavanaugh went to the Capitol to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He then met with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who will guide the confirmation hearings and vote.
“We’ll hear all kinds of fantastic stories about the pain and suffering that this perfectly qualified, widely respected judge will somehow unleash on America if we confirm him to the court,” McConnell said before a bank of cameras in the Capitol Building.
Across the street in front of the Supreme Court, Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader, stood with Democratic Judiciary Committee members and vowed, “I’m going to fight this nomination with everything I’ve got.”
Schumer said, “President Trump did exactly what he said he would do on the campaign trail — nominate someone who will overturn women’s reproductive rights and strike down health care protections for millions of Americans.”
He also said Kavanaugh’s nomination raises a new concern – that Trump knows that Kavanaugh “will be a barrier” if special counsel Robert Mueller tries to subpoena Trump in the probe into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
Schumer cited Kavanaugh’s 2009 law review article that said “We should not burden a sitting President with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions” and that there’s “a serious constitutional question” if a president can be “indicted and tried while in office.” Attorneys for President Bill Clinton, however, had expressed the same concerns.
Kavanaugh was a top deputy to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the Whitewater probe and Clinton's impeachment.
In a call with reporters, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said she would oppose Kavanaugh because “he is so ultraconservative, so far right from the mainstream, that he would move our court in a direction, that, truly, New Yorkers don't support, for 20, 30 years.”
Before leaving for an overseas trip, Trump said, “Brett Kavanaugh has gotten rave reviews — rave reviews — actually, from both sides. And I think it’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch over the next month.”
McConnell expressed confidence that Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the fall. McConnell said he even hoped to pick up a few Democratic votes as he did with last year’s confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch.
He praised Kavanaugh’s resume as “top notch” and said the judge understands he “must interpret laws as they are written” and “not craft novel legislation from the bench.”
Grassley did not lay out a timeline for the confirmation hearings — in which the nominee usually faces three days of questioning by committee members — but said, “We’re going to have a thorough process. Hopefully it’s efficient. We’re going to get it done quickly.”
Grassley also said he would “try to do what we can to accommodate” all the requests.
Democrats have already demanded access to a trail of thousands of records Kavanaugh has left from his work for Starr, his stint as associate counsel and later secretary to President George W. Bush, and as a circuit court judge.
“We have a job to do,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), “to dig into his record, to go through it thoroughly, to demand the release of every single record that might be relevant,” Coons said, adding, “Then and only then should we have a hearing and take a vote.”
The five undecided senators who are the focus of expensive and intense ad and volunteer campaigns in their states have refrained from taking a position on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, according to statements they have posted on their websites or on Twitter. All voted for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.
“Judge Kavanaugh has impressive credentials and extensive experience,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in a statement, in which she promised to conduct “a careful, thorough vetting” of the nominee.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she will consider the American Bar Association's rating of Kavanaugh, her personal meeting with him, her review of his writings and qualifications and “the views of Alaskans.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said, “I will evaluate Judge Kavanaugh’s record, legal qualifications, judicial philosophy and particularly, his views on health care.” Manchin said the high court, "will ultimately decide if nearly 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions will lose their health care. This decision will directly impact almost 40 percent of my state, so I’m very interested in his position on protecting West Virginians with pre-existing conditions.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said in a Twitter post, “I have no doubt that many members of Congress and outside groups will announce how they stand on the nominee before doing their due diligence and instead just take a partisan stance — but that isn’t how I work. An exhaustive and fair process took place for Justice Gorsuch, who I supported, and it should and must take place again.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.): "As I have said, part of my job as Senator includes thoroughly considering judicial nominations, including to the Supreme Court. I will take the same approach as I have previously for a Supreme Court vacancy. Following the president’s announcement, I will carefully review and consider the record and qualifications of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”