Kavanaugh Meets With Democrats Facing Re-Election In Red States

Aug 15, 2018
Originally published on August 15, 2018 7:17 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Senate Republicans want to make sure that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed before the court begins its next session in October. Most Democrats are refusing to meet with Kavanaugh while they wait for Republicans to hand over documents on the nominee's career in public service. But today two moderate Democrats who could be crucial swing votes in the confirmation process, Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, went against the trend. They sat down for meetings with the nominee.

NPR's Kelsey Snell has been following these developments today. Hey there, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: What did these two senators say about their decision to meet with Kavanaugh?

SNELL: Well, as you mentioned, Democrats have been in this lengthy fight with Republicans about just how much information they should be able to get on Kavanaugh. They're talking about information about the time that he spent in the George W. Bush White House and as an attorney for Kenneth Starr's Whitewater investigation into President Clinton. Now, they've already released 184,000 pages of documents.

And the pressure's building for Democrats to start talking to Kavanaugh before his confirmation hearings start on September 4. That's already scheduled. So we are starting to see Democrats kind of step up and want to talk to Kavanaugh. And it was extremely politically important for the red state Democrats to meet with him first.

Now, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin went first a couple weeks ago, and then Donnelly and Heitkamp followed pretty quickly. And I should note that they're the three Democrats who voted for Trump's last pick, Neil Gorsuch. So it was kind of a natural development for them to be the first people to meet with this pick.

CORNISH: As you mention, though, there's still an incredible amount of pressure on these Democrats, right? I mean, if this is just about meeting with him, I can't imagine what they're dealing with if they're thinking of voting for him.

SNELL: Yeah, you're right. The pressure is absolutely huge. On the left you've got activists who want them to stick with the party. And they want them to kind of try to help block Kavanaugh from being confirmed. Now, that's a pretty difficult ask because Democrats don't control enough Senate seats to actually stop his confirmation. But the logic is that if Democrats stick together, the pressure builds to shift - the shift to build against moderate Republicans who might block him.

There's also intense pressure from the right. And there are groups like the conservative Judicial Crisis Network and America First Policies that are all over the airwaves. So to start with, we've got ads that kind of have a similar tone tying them to more liberal Democrats. I think we got a taste of what they sound like starting with an ad running against Donnelly in Indiana.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Is he more interested in siding with Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is no time for obstructionist politics. It's time to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Her decision on Kavanaugh is something you won't forget.

SNELL: So obviously that last one is running in North Dakota against Heitkamp. And the message is a pretty big deal for a Democrat trying to convince voters in mostly Republican states to cross the political aisle and vote for them. So these ads could be pretty effective.

CORNISH: There are other Democrats who are scheduling meetings, I understand. Why are they moving ahead if they haven't gotten all the documents they've been talking about?

SNELL: Yeah, it's a good question. But it's a combination of factors. On the one hand, Republicans are saying that the documents are coming in. They had this huge press conference where they're standing in front of a literal wall of boxes of those records to demonstrate that they're getting the information. But Democrats say most of the documents that are being sent over are being reviewed by Republican staff and are being marked as committee confidential, meaning they can't be made public, and many senators can't view them.

But they're also eager to show that Democrats take their job of vetting nominees seriously. Many senators that I talked to say they don't want to set a double standard of ignoring the nominee after they got so upset that Republicans didn't meet with Obama's pick, Merrick Garland.

So we're expecting top Democrat leaders to start meeting with Kavanaugh soon, possibly as early as next week. And there's the time crunch. I mentioned the September 4 hearing. They really do want to get Kavanaugh approved before the end of September.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.