Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump

Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

A Look Ahead To Confirmation Hearings For Judge Kavanaugh

July 10, 2018 - 6:44 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) -- Senate Republicans are hoping to get Judge Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and experts note that Democrats’ hands may be tied even though some are putting up a fight.

Kavanaugh, 53, is a longtime judge and former clerk for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. He has been a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington since 2006. He also was a key aide to Kenneth Starr during his investigation of President Bill Clinton and worked in the White House during George W. Bush's presidency.

Kavanaugh is a graduate of Yale University college and law school, and teaches at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown. Trump called him a “brilliant jurist” who is “universally regarded as one of the sharpest and finest legal minds of our time.”

With Kavanaugh, Trump is replacing a swing vote on the nine-member court with a staunch conservative. Kavanaugh is expected to be less receptive to abortion and gay rights than Kennedy was. He also has taken an expansive view of executive power and has favored limits on investigating the president.

Washington Post Political Reporter Amber Phillips told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott that President Trump is the big winner with the nomination.

“He has two chances in two years, really, to shape the Supreme Court and put his stamp on it for potentially generations,” she said. “This is also a moment where the president has a chance to show a skeptical Republican Party that he can be a more traditional president, and that they need him, frankly, because if Hillary Clinton were president, it’s likely that Brett Kavanaugh would not be the nominee to fill this key, pivotal swing vote that’s now open.”

One of the big losers, surprisingly, is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Phillips said.

“Even though Senate Republicans generally support Brett Kavanaugh – the person that President Trump picked – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is my top loser here, and that’s because the Post has reported he specifically urged Trump not to pick this person,” she said.

Phillips said McConnell was worried that Kavanaugh had too much baggage involving partisan legal opinions that the Senate could pick apart, and the majority leader is under the gun to get the confirmation completed as quickly as possible, Phillips said.

“He’s got a hard deadline of November. It is a possibility that Senate Democrats could seize control of the chamber. Republicans now only hold it by two votes. It’s an uphill battle for Democrats, but they could do it, and if they did, there’s no guarantee that Kavanaugh would get through a Democratic Senate,” Phillips said. “In fact, it’s quite possible Trump would have to start all over again. So McConnell is on a very hard and fast deadline here.”

But on Tuesday, Republicans were unified in their elation at the pick.

“Today was a shot of unity. It was about having these tableaus of all-smiles Republicans who are thrilled with the president’s pick,” CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes told WCBS 880's Michael Wallae. "He will be sitting down with both Democrats and Republicans in the days to come, and there are a number of Democrats who say that they are keeping an open mind, and that they want to meet with him and have a chance to talk with him before they decide how they’re going to vote on the president’s nominee.”

But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) said he will be fighting the nomination with everything he’s got – and among Democrats, he has a lot of company.

“There are a number of Democrats who say that this nominee – and frankly, they would have said this no matter who the president chose from his short list – poses a danger to abortion rights, poses a danger to people who are currently protected from being charged more for their preexisting conditions,” Cordes said. “Health care is really emerging as the main issue that Democrats are focusing on as they try to build consensus among their own party, and then hoping that they can gain some traction with a few moderate Republicans as well, to oppose this nominee because they say that confirming him would change the balance of the court in such a way that women’s rights and health care would be at risk for some Americans.”

As to the confirmation vote, some Republicans are concerned about how Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – both moderate Republicans who support abortion rights – might vote.

Cordes noted that neither senator has officially said they will vote to confirm Kavanaugh, but they have been “very complimentary about his background.”

“I think it would take a lot, frankly, for the two of them to be willing to buck their party on an issue that’s as big as this one. They’ve done it before, but they’ve also voted to confirm almost all of the president’s other judicial nominees, so it’s hard to see, with this particular nominee, them going the other way, but you never know,” Cordes said.

As to the Democrats, the rules have changed so that only a simple majority, rather than 60 votes, are needed for confirmation. Thus, if Murkowski and Collins vote to confirm Kavanaugh, or if some Democrats defect, there is not much the Democrats can do.

“They can try to drum up their base of support to try to oppose; you know, call up by the Republican senators to oppose Kavanaugh,” Phillips said. “But in terms of hard votes, Senate Democrats are pretty much stuck right now unless they manage to get a couple on-the-fence Republicans to switch over, and I’m very carefully gauging those Republican senators, but that seems unlikely at this point.”