WASHINGTON — Let the pitched, partisan battle begin.
Democrats and Republicans in the Senate – along with their deep-pocketed allied outside groups – laid out the case for and against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh within minutes of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he had selected the federal appeals court judge to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.
“I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have, and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York said in a statement. “The stakes are simply too high for anything less.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Kavanaugh “extremely well qualified” and envisioned a different kind of bipartisanship – one that would lead to the nominee’s confirmation.
“This is an opportunity for senators to put partisanship aside and consider his legal qualifications with the fairness, respect, and seriousness that a Supreme Court nomination ought to command,” McConnell said.
Trump’s nominee, coming less than two weeks after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, will now head to Capitol Hill for “courtesy calls” with the senators who will determine his fate. Those closed-door visits will be carefully choreographed, but they’re unlikely to change very many hearts and minds.
Most Republicans are expected to support Kavanaugh, while most Democrats will almost certainly vote against him.
In the middle are a half-dozen or so moderate lawmakers who have staked out a position on the fence, with promises to conduct a rigorous review of Kavanaugh’s record and carefully consider his qualifications.
Those swing votes will soak up the spotlight in the coming weeks, as advocacy groups target them with TV ads and spur a flood of constituent calls and emails.
On Monday, the outside groups outlined their battle plans and their lobbying pitches.
Christian conservative leader Ralph Reed noted that many voters – including voters of faith – backed Trump in 2016 because of his promise to nominate conservatives to the court.
“It is a promise made that has become another promise kept,” echoed Johnnie Moore, an informal spokesman for the group of evangelicals who advise Trump.
“Evangelicals are singing `Hallelujah!” Moore tweeted.
Noting that “elections have consequences,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, called the nomination a “moment the pro-life movement has been looking forward to for decades.”
Her group is paying for hundreds of canvassers to knock on doors in states with close Senate races to mobilize voters for the midterm elections.
Americans for Prosperity, the grassroots arm of the political network controlled by the Koch brothers, plans to spend at least $1 million in ads and canvassing to support Kavanaugh’s confirmation. AFP vice president Sarah Field said Kavanaugh has sterling qualifications and will “not legislate from the bench.”
Liberal groups were equally passionate in their opposition. They said Kavanaugh would restrict abortion rights, undermine the Affordable Care Act, and give Trump a blank check in executive decision-making.
“Kavanaugh would bring all of Trump’s worst qualities to the Supreme Court for decades to come,” said Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
“Kavanaugh has proven himself to be a political operative when it comes to undermining the Affordable Care Act through frivolous cases and opinions,” she said. “He has also written with shocking deference to presidential power and immunity, which raises the alarming but wholly legitimate question of whether this is one more effort by President Trump to obstruct justice for himself and his associates.”
Abortion-rights groups warned that Kavanaugh would likely vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion.
“We can’t forget what America was like before Roe and we know the reality today for so many women in so many states across the nation where our right to make the most fundamental decisions about our bodies, our families, and our lives has been all but eradicated,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “Kavanaugh would use the Court as a tool to doom all women to that fate.”
All that fire and fury will now be focused on the half-dozen moderate senators. So it’s perhaps no wonder their reaction was muted on Monday, offering no hints about their leanings.
“I will evaluate Judge Kavanaugh’s record, legal qualifications, judicial philosophy and particularly, his views on healthcare,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, which Trump won by 42 percentage points.
Manchin is one of ten Senate Democrats up for re-election in states Trump won. They are walking a particularly thin tightrope, balancing between liberals who want them to oppose Trump at all costs and Trump voters whom they will need to win re-election.
“Now I’ll go to work to thoroughly review and vet his record,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., which Trump won by 36 percentage points.
Republicans are hoping to pick off a handful of red-state Democrats Republicans to help confirm Kavanaugh. But they have to keep their own GOP members in line.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is one of two Republican senators who support abortion rights and is facing pressure from the left to oppose Kavanaugh. Collins did not say Monday if she would support Kavanaugh, although she said he had “impressive credentials and extensive experience.”
The other moderate Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said she would review Kavanaugh’s writings on and off the bench and “pay careful attention” to the answers he gives during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.