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Kavanaugh Now Faces Bitterly Divided Senate; Angry Dems Holding Nothing Back

President Donald Trump's second nominee in two years could give conservatives a clear Supreme Court majority for the first time in generations

President Donald Trump’s naming of Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh Monday to the Supreme Court shifts the political spotlight to a U.S. Senate deeply divided between a razor-thin Republican majority and a desperately determined Democratic minority seeking to block the nomination.

“President [Donald] Trump has made a superb choice,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement Monday night. “He is widely admired for his intellect, experience, and exemplary judicial temperament. He has won the respect of his peers and is highly regarded throughout the legal community.

“And his judicial record demonstrates a firm understanding of the role of a judge in our republic: Setting aside personal views and political preferences in order to interpret our laws as they are written.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) could hardly have taken a more opposite view:

“In selecting Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, President Trump has put reproductive rights and freedoms and health care protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block. His own writings make clear that he would rule against reproductive rights and freedoms, and that he would welcome challenges to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.”

McConnell and Schumer would both need 51 votes. For the former, it would confirm Kavanaugh as the ninth justice and thus go a long way toward cementing a conservative majority on the nation’s highest tribunal. For the latter, it would leave the court deadlocked with eight justices, pending the outcome of the November midterm elections, which Democrats hope will restore their control of the Senate.

McConnell faces the tougher challenge in some ways because one of his GOP colleagues, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is home fighting cancer and is considered unlikely to be able to vote on the nomination. That means McConnell must corral all 49 other Republicans, plus rely on his own vote, to confirm Kavanaugh, whereas Schumer need only lure one GOP senator away.

But that scenario assumes Schumer can keep all of his Democrats in line, and with a half-dozen Democrat senators from states Trump carried handily in 2016 facing re-election, the minority leader could have even more of his troops breaking rank than McConnell.

Notably among those Trump invited to the White House for the announcement were Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). All three declined, saying they preferred to meet Kavanaugh one-on-one, beginning Tuesday.

McConnell has one ace up his sleeve that Schumer can’t match. Should there be a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would break it, and Kavanaugh would be confirmed.

Related: Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court Pick: Everything You Need to Know

For now, Democrats wasted no time in firing their opening barrages against Kavanaugh, with an eye on the nomination’s first major hurdle, winning the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The judiciary panel has 11 GOP members and 10 Democrats, with many of the latter among the most fiery critics of Trump. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) chairs the committee.

“Kavanaugh’s record on the bench, in key political positions in the Bush White House and as a partisan political operative, indicates that, if confirmed, he would be among the most conservative justices in Supreme Court history,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking minority member.

“His views are far outside the legal mainstream when it comes to access to health care, executive power, gun safety, worker protections, women’s reproductive freedom, and the government’s ability to ensure clean air and water, to name a few,” the San Francisco Democrat said.

Other Democrats on the committee were equally adamant about Kavanaugh.

“Kavanaugh’s record is replete with decisions favoring the privileged and powerful,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said following Trump’s announcement. “His writings and rulings show a determination to restrict women’s reproductive freedom and strip federal agencies of their power to protect our water, air, and safety.”

Another Democrat on the committee, Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, tweeted Monday night: “I am voting no.” Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy didn’t explicitly say how he will vote but noted that Kavanaugh faces “a heavy burden” in seeking support.

California Democrat Kamala Harris refused to take a call from Trump regarding his choice of Kavanaugh and was among the speakers addressing a loud protest on the steps of the Supreme Court building as the president was speaking to the nation.

Other Senate Democrats, including several considering seeking their party’s presidential nomination in 2020, were equally critical.

“The fact that Judge Kavanaugh has a long-established view that a president should not be subject to civil litigation or criminal investigation while in office means that President Trump has just nominated a justice who has already reached conclusions on these serious questions,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said in a statement. “That should raise enormous red flags.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Kavanaugh’s “record as a judge and lawyer is clear: hostile to health care for millions, opposed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and to corporate accountability, thinks presidents like Trump are above the law, and conservatives are confident that he will overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Vermont’s Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, who strongly challenged Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries and who is thought likely to make another run in 2020, predicted that Kavanaugh would be “a rubber-stamp for an extreme, right-wing agenda pushed by corporations and billionaires.”

“We must mobilize the American people to defeat Trump’s right-wing, reactionary nominee,” he said.

meet the author

Connor D. Wolf covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at [email protected].