It may be an understatement to say that the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has become a train wreck for the GOP at the hands of politically-motivated Democrats. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has managed to gum up the fast-track nomination process to the point where President Trump is actually mulling whether or not to pull Kavanaugh’s name from consideration.
As reported here on Monday, a letter from a woman, Christine Blasey Ford, surfaced earlier this summer claiming that Kavanaugh had engaged in an attempted rape at a drunken party during his high school years. Democrats had the letter since July but sat on the contents until just a week ago.
With several days of back-and-forth, we’re at the point now where Kavanaugh vehemently denies the allegation and has agreed to come back before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions on this new revelation. Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, seemed first agreeable to also come before the committee, but then demanded that an FBI investigation take place before she would testify. Republicans are calling this request for an FBI investigation, which lacks jurisdiction in this case, a delay tactic to keep the seat open until after the midterm elections as an attempt to ignite Democratic voter turnout.
There are plenty of other SCOTUS nominees on the Trump short list of judges, but the White House is wary of pulling Kavanaugh over fears of a Republican backlash in November, as the Daily Beast reports:
For Donald Trump’s White House, Brett Kavanaugh is increasingly irrelevant to the politics of his own Supreme Court nomination. Instead, those close to the president view the next few days as a virtual X-ray on the backbone of their party and a litmus test for the future of Trump’s presidency.
Those are the stakes that Team Trump has embraced as it and Kavanaugh respond to allegations that the federal appeals court judge sexually assaulted a fellow high-school student—allegations he strenuously denies.
There has been no talk within the ranks about pulling the nomination and going with an equally conservative—if not less controversial—pick, even if it would remove a major complication from the Republican agenda just 50 days before the midterm elections. To do so, aides and operatives insist, would be a disaster of much greater magnitude: inviting Democrats to launch more aggressive challenges to future judicial nominees and depressing the very base of conservative voters needed in November.
“A withdrawal would be disastrous for Trump,” one pro-Trump political operative who worked on the president’s 2016 campaign said. “You take away the whole ‘We’re sick of winning’ message. That’s a huge, marquee, top-line loss.”
Rarely have Supreme Court fights been defined in such crassly political terms.
New York Magazine also points out that withdrawing Kavanaugh from the process would leave Republicans in an impossible bind with no time left to put up a new nominee and have hearings plus a vote before the court’s term starts in October:
Depending on what happens in the next few days, there is an invisible but very real point of no return on Kavanaugh in terms of withdrawing him and substituting another nominee. It’s already very late in the day for getting an alternative confirmation process underway prior to the November 6 midterms. And with every passing day, the odds of completing a non-Kavanaugh confirmation before the end of the year (and the end of the 115th Congress) go down — with potentially catastrophic consequences for Trump, the GOP, and the conservative movement if Democrats win back control of the Senate in the midterms.
A quick switch from Kavanaugh to, say, Amy Coney Barrett might be a good move politically from a conventional standpoint. It would neutralize the potential midterm gender-gap consequences of white male Republican senators protecting their white male judicial candidate by disrespecting an alleged sexual assault victim. And it would give conservatives a SCOTUS pick that some preferred to Kavanaugh in the first place, in part because of the advantages associated with having a woman to help form a Court majority willing to overturn Roe v. Wade and curtail reproductive rights.
But ruthless as Trump may be, cutting his losses in this case would mean admitting he’s nominated a loser from a list of 25 SCOTUS prospects produced by what he has touted as the most extensive vetting process in presidential history.
In short, the White House is between a rock and a hard place on Kavanaugh. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they want to dump him just to make this problem go away since he has become damaged goods even if the story isn’t true. That would be well and good if there wasn’t an election coming up in 47 days. As Election Day draws closer, Congress will spend more time back home campaigning and less time in DC. It would be impossible to get a new nominee, such as Judge Amy Coney Barrett, for example, vetted by the Judiciary Committee in time to get a vote before the election.
In fact, it’s safe to say that Democrats are angling hard for a delay until after the election, regardless of who the nominee may be. Democratic voters would become instantly more motivated in the Senate races to flip some Republican seats and take back some control over the judicial nomination process. It’s almost a made-to-order campaign issue if Kavanaugh doesn’t get confirmed within the next two weeks.
For all these reasons and more, Republicans plan to push ahead with Kavanaugh, as reported by the Wall Stree Journal:
White House Spokesman Raj Shah said the president won’t look at naming any replacement nominee unless there is a clear need. The administration, he said, was going “full steam ahead” to support Judge Kavanaugh, who has denied the assault accusations.
GOP leaders in the Senate said they were continuing to seek the testimony of Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser, California college professor Christine Blasey Ford. Earlier, Republicans rejected calls from her attorneys and Democrats for an investigation of the allegations as a condition for her appearing at the hearing.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the hearing would start at 10 a.m. Monday, and he pressed Dr. Ford to testify. In a letter to her lawyers, he gave her a deadline of 10 a.m. Friday to submit her biography and prepared remarks if she planned to testify.
Monday is the deadline right now for Ford to show up and testify, possibly derailing the entire nomination depending on her credibility, or to decide not to show, in which case Republicans have vowed to move forward with a committee vote leading to a full Senate vote.
I can’t leave the story without picking this nugget from the WSJ article which makes you truly wonder how long Trump will stick with Kavanaugh:
It wasn’t clear how committed Mr. Trump is to the nomination. A person close to Mr. Trump said the president views Judge Kavanaugh as the pick of outgoing White House Counsel Don McGahn and “won’t lose any sleep if he has to choose someone else.”
Kavanaugh may not have been Trump’s first pick, especially since the Judge hails from the Bush-wing of the Republican Party. Trump will go along now for the politics alone, but if it drags on past Monday, expect the narrative to change if and when Trump decides it’s best to cut Kavanaugh loose and name a new, perhaps more conservative Judge to placate his base. That’ll lead to some epic Senate race battles as the Supreme Court would become the defining campaign issue.