The battle over Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s replacement started in earnest on Monday night as President Trump announced that he was going with the least surprising, and perhaps the safest pick for his replacement: Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Within minutes, lawmakers and activists rolled out statements that reflected their respective strategies for what’s expected to be a brutal confirmation fight. For Democrats, that meant highlighting Kavanaugh’s views on health care — not just the very real possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by a more conservative Supreme Court, but the broader threat to access to affordable health care. (As The Hill reports, the idea is that highlighting issues like Obamacare’s protections for preexisting conditions in addition to reproductive rights will be less divisive in red states.) Meanwhile, Republicans sought to portray Democrats as hysterical obstructionists tearing down a perfectly respectable judge for partisan purposes (though they refused to even consider President Obama’s far more centrist Supreme Court nominee purely for partisan purposes).
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s response focused almost exclusively on health care, and was clearly aimed at Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are pro-choice and voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act last year.
Many other Democratic senators came out against Kavanaugh on Monday night, including Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Van Hollen, and Patty Murray.
Since Republicans only hold a 51 seat majority, and Senator John McCain is home battling brain cancer, one GOP “no” vote could tank Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Democrats have vowed to fight for a less conservative nominee, preferably after the midterms, though they don’t have much leverage. While Collins has said a justice committed to overturning Roe v. Wade “would not be acceptable,” it seems likely that Kavanaugh’s hazy position on abortion (compared to some other potential nominees) will provide enough cover for her to confirm him. Both Collins and Murkowski released statements saying they are reserving judgement on the judge:
Collins and Murkowski declined invitations to be present for Monday’s Supreme Court announcement, along with three red-state Democrats who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Senators Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly (along with Doug Jones, who wasn’t in office at the time). They issued similar statements on the nomination:
Manchin’s references to preexisting conditions were a hopeful sign for Democrats, but conservative groups intend to spend vast amounts of money to flip red-state Democrats in favor of Kavanaugh. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, has committed to spending at least $2.4 million on TV and digital ads backing Kavanaugh, and their website confirmkavanaugh.com went live shortly after Trump’s announcement. The group poured $10 million into promoting Gorsuch’s nomination, and will probably spend just as much this time. They’re joined by a network of Koch brothers–backed groups planning to spent at least $1 million on the confirmation battle.
Unlike the last confirmation fight, when only 10 percent of Supreme Court—related ads were anti-Gorsuch, liberal groups are planning large ad buys as well. Demand Justice, led by former Hillary Clinton aide Brian Fallon, has said it will spend $5 million on digital and TV ads targeting Collins and Murkowski. According to the Washington Post, activists with the group had prepared several versions of signs protesting Trump’s pick for a post-announcement rally on the steps of the Supreme Court.
A coalition of liberal groups, rallying around the slogan #SaveSCOTUS, have organized at least 39 events around the country on Tuesday.
“We are urging people to do events in-district at Senate offices,” Elizabeth Beavers, the associate policy director of Indivisible, which is helping to organize the protest, told the Post. “We are asking people to get public commitments from senators to oppose the nominee.”
Meanwhile, Republicans sought to use Democrats’ attacks against them, insisting that Kavanaugh is a “mainstream” pick (though it appears he would be one of the Court’s most conservative justices), and Democratic resistance is unfair.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who engineered the Court’s lurch to the right when he refused to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, said the public can see through Democrats’ trickery.
“This far-left rhetoric comes out every single time, but the apocalypse never comes,” he said Monday on the floor of the Senate. “Americans can see beyond this far-left mongering.”