Senate Democrats are pushing for access to more than a million pages of records on Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh. This is both a stalling tactic and fishing expedition: Before allowing Republicans to confirm a fifth anti-choice justice, Chuck Schumer’s caucus want to check each and every one of the great carpool dad’s closets for a skeleton.
But now, Mitch McConnell is warning his Democratic colleagues that, should they persist in their demands for transparency, they will hurt no one but themselves. As Politico reports:
The Senate majority leader privately told senior Republicans on Wednesday that if Democrats keep pushing for access to upwards of a million pages in records from President Donald Trump’s high court pick, he’s prepared to let Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote slip until just before November’s midterm elections, according to multiple sources.
Delaying the vote past September would serve a dual purpose for McConnell, keeping vulnerable red-state Democrats off the campaign trail while potentially forcing anti-Kavanaugh liberals to swallow a demoralizing defeat just ahead of the midterms. Senators said McConnell believes the Democratic base will be “deflated” if they raise hopes of defeating Kavanaugh only to lose just days before the election.
McConnell’s gambit makes some sense. While keeping senators off the campaign trail in October would hurt both parties’ incumbents, Democrats have 26 seats at risk this fall, while Republicans have only 9. And many of the Democratic Party’s incumbents are seeking reelection in overwhelmingly pro-Trump states. The notion that pushing the confirmation fight into October would deflate “the resistance” is more speculative. But it does seem likely that keeping the Supreme Court fight in the headlines would help to mobilize the Christian right in November.
And yet, if McConnell truly believed his own threat — if the majority leader was entirely confident that a delayed Kavanaugh confirmation would redound to his party’s electoral benefit — then he would ostensibly be planning to do so, no matter what records the Democrats did or did not request.
Politico’s sources suggest that McConnell is willing to forgo that partisan benefit for the sake of ensuring that there are nine justices when the Supreme Court goes back into session this fall. But Mitch McConnell is not exactly famous for prioritizing a fully stocked Supreme Court over maximizing the GOP’s power. Thus, the fact that the Senate majority leader ultimately favors a speedy confirmation process likely reflects the inherent risks of a delayed one.
The longer the Kavanaugh fight wears on, the more time progressive activists in Maine and Alaska have to mobilize pressure on the (putatively) pro-choice senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. What’s more, if some late-breaking revelation were to sink Kavanaugh in October, it is at least conceivable that the confirmation of his replacement could drag out into the next Congress. And there is a small — but not entirely negligible — chance that Democrats could control the upper chamber next January.
None of this necessarily means that Democrats wouldn’t end up paying a political price if hearings dragged out into October. Senators like Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly will need all the face time with their constituents they can get this fall. But if McConnell were certain that dragging this process out would result in Kavanaugh’s confirmation — and a few more Republican votes in the Senate — he would be celebrating the Democrats’ stalling tactics, not condemning them.