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Battle lines forming over Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans want to fast-track the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but those hopes could be dashed by Democrats demanding to review documents from his past as White House staff secretary and deputy to special counsel Ken Starr.

A decision on when a confirmation hearing will be held could be announced as early as this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has praised Kavanaugh as a nominee with impeccable credentials who should be easily confirmed by the Senate to fill the vacancy left by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

McConnell wants a vote on the nomination by the full Senate this fall, before the Supreme Court begins its session in October.

Senators are reviewing rulings by Kavanaugh, who served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for the past 13 years.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wants his caucus to review Kavanaugh’s entire record, including decisions and recommendations he made as White House staff secretary under President George W. Bush involving controversial surveillance programs after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Democrats also want to scour Kavanaugh’s record as deputy to Starr, and specifically the paperwork Kavanaugh wrote supporting a report seized by House Republicans to impeach President Bill Clinton.

Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to delay the nomination by seeking millions of pages of documents.

“Their demands for an unprecedented paper chase sound more and more like a demand for a taxpayer-funded fishing expedition,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold the confirmation hearing.

Schumer said the request by Democrats is nothing different from that of Republicans who reviewed Justice Elena Kagan’s emails and other materials after she was nominated for the high court by President Barack Obama.

Democrats were invigorated in their fight last week when the White House withdrew the nomination of Ryan Bounds for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over his controversial writings on multiculturalism while a student at Stanford University.

Making the rounds

Kavanaugh is making the rounds on Capitol Hill, chatting with senators during courtesy calls that are customary for Supreme Court nominees prior to their consideration by the Senate, which must confirm their nomination.

He met last week with several Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who said he would support Kavanaugh “without reservation” and said he would be a great addition to the court.

Heller said Kavanaugh has issued more than 300 opinions from the bench — “an extensive record that reflects a clear respect for precedent.”

“He is a mainstream jurist,” Heller said.

Before the nomination, Heller had urged GOP leadership to quickly confirm another conservative nominated for the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, who pledged to choose from a list of candidates vetted by the anti-abortion-rights Federalist Society.

Kavanaugh has not met with Schumer or Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, or other Democratic lawmakers.

A spokesman for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said the senator has sought a meeting with Kavanaugh, but nothing has been scheduled.

Cortez Masto said the next Supreme Court justice will have an impact on issues that include abortion rights, health care protections, LGBTQ rights, workers’ rights and money in politics.

She said she planned to meet Kavanaugh “and will review his qualifications thoroughly.”

Focus on seven lawmakers

A Judiciary aide said Grassley is still considering requests and meticulously reviewing a list of steps that must be taken before a hearing is announced or held.

Grassley has staff members reviewing records from Kavanaugh’s past, before his appointment to the appellate court, to determine which documents would be relevant to his confirmation hearing.

Meanwhile, the White House said Kavanaugh is available to meet with Democrats, who have refused to sit down with the nominee until Republicans capitulate on the demand to review volumes of past records.

Schumer has vowed to fight the nomination, but Democrats have little chance of derailing the Supreme Court pick without a bombshell discovery in the nominee’s past.

Republicans control the Senate by a 51-49 margin. Although the GOP can ill afford to lose a couple of members, Democrats must hold their caucus together.

The battle could come down to seven moderate lawmakers who could break with their parties: Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, and Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Carolina, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

A June 11-July 2 poll for Axios by Survey Monkey showed Heitkamp, Donnelly and Nelson trailing their Republican challengers, though all were within the margin of error, which was plus- or minus-5 percentage points.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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