GOP and Democrats begin battle over Kavanaugh

Republicans and Democrats are firing volleys on the Senate floor over President Donald Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to become the newest member of the Supreme Court.


There was never any real doubt that, whomever Trump picked, it would please his base and outrage his liberal critics.

Some left-of-center organizations had announced plans for protest rallies before Trump announced his choice, seeing all the shortlisted candidates as hard-line conservatives who could threaten abortion rights and affect other hot-button issues.

Several potential 2020 presidential contenders spoke at a rally outside the Supreme Court, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

The political calculus here is clear: all the political incentives for 2020 Democratic contenders favor opposing Trump’s pick as fiercely as possible, since anything less would likely be treated with suspicion by the party’s grass-roots supporters.

The dynamics are much more complicated for Senate Democrats running for reelection in states Trump won by significant margins in 2016.

Three of those senators — Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin — voted to confirm Gorsuch last year. All three were invited to the White House ceremony; all three declined.

Their public statements since Kavanaugh was announced have been circumspect. Donnelly said that he would “carefully review and consider” his record. Heitkamp and Manchin struck a similar tone.

How those senators vote could be vital for their own chances for reelection.

Given the razor-thin math in the Senate — Republicans have a 50-49 advantage in the absence of the seriously ill Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — they could also be crucial to whether Kavanaugh is ultimately confirmed.

Tensions between Trump loyalists and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are rarely far from the surface.

They emerged again here. Despite Kavanaugh’s establishment credentials, McConnell was reported to have advocated for two other figures on Trump’s shortlist, Thomas Hardiman and Raymond Kethledge, arguing that they could be easily and promptly confirmed by the Senate.

His input roiled some of those close to Trump, who believed Kavanaugh had almost had his hands on the prize when McConnell intervened. From the same quarters, there was satisfaction that the president in the end bucked the majority leader’s advice.

It’s hardly a serious setback for McConnell — Kavanaugh’s record contains nothing to discomfort him — but it does again expose the difficult wrinkles in the Trump-McConnell relationship.

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