Conservative Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh embarked on a round of courtesy calls Tuesday with key Republican senators who control his Supreme Court nomination, while frustrated Democrats argued for a postponement of the confirmation hearing until special counsel Robert Mueller completes the Russia investigation that they hope could damage President Trump.
A day after Mr. Trump nominated the D.C. Circuit federal appeals court judge to replace retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the nominee made the traditional first visit to Capitol Hill, where he met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican. He was escorted by Vice President Mike Pence and former Sen. Jon Kyl, who will be the nominee’s guide for the confirmation process.
“We’re honored to be able to bring him here to the United States Senate and begin the important work the Senate will do discharging its constitutional duties to consider this good man as the president’s nominee,” the vice president told Mr. McConnell.
The confirmation hearing could begin by Aug. 20 as the White House seeks to place Judge Kavanaugh on the high court for the start of its next term in October. Mr. Grassley gave no timeline but promised, “It’s going to be thorough and going to be done right.”
“Hopefully, it’s efficient, we get it done quickly,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and all 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court to oppose Judge Kavanaugh. They said they feared he would be a pivotal vote to unravel Obamacare and reverse the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion. Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, told young women that a possible ruling to overturn abortion rights “will forever change your lives.”
Already facing pressure from an energized Democratic base, Mr. Schumer vowed, “I’m going to fight this nomination with everything I’ve got.” But he rejected calls from some liberal activists to boycott Senate committee meetings or Senate floor action in a bid to derail Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.
If Democrats can make voters aware of the nominee’s record, he said, “then we will get a majority in the Senate to vote him down.”
Both sides see the confirmation battle as a pivotal fight. Judge Kavanaugh would likely provide a fifth vote to tip the court’s balance in a more conservative direction for years to come.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Judge Kavanaugh’s record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and his personal life story, make him a compelling choice.
“If these Democrats — whether they’re red states, blue states or purple states — actually look at the qualifications of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, they really have no choice but to confirm him,” she said on Fox News.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said of the Democrats’ tactics, “While Democrats will stop at nothing to delay and obstruct the president’s choice, Judge Kavanaugh deserves a fair and swift confirmation hearing and up or down vote.”
In judging a fair amount of time for confirmation, allies of the White House are looking at the benchmarks of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who was confirmed 66 days after his nomination last year, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose confirmation process took 72 days in 2009 under President Obama. That timetable would put Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote in the second half of September.
Delay to defeat
Democrats lack the votes to stop the nomination if no Republican senator breaks ranks, and some liberals urged a delay of the confirmation. During a noon conference call hosted by liberal activist groups, one tactician advocated a strategy of using Mr. Mueller’s Russia investigation as a reason to postpone a vote on Judge Kavanaugh, possibly until after November’s midterm elections.
“We cannot rush this nomination,” said Leslie Proll, a civil rights lawyer who is advising the NAACP on judicial nominations. “There is a pending criminal investigation into the president. It would be irresponsible for the Senate to move forward without concluding that.”
Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, a member of the Judiciary Committee and a likely 2020 presidential contender, also is arguing to halt any consideration of the nominee until Mr. Mueller wraps up his investigation.
“President Trump is currently a subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, and any nomination of a Supreme Court justice while that investigation continues is unacceptable because of the clear conflict of interest inherent in the president installing someone who could be the deciding vote on a number of potential issues from that investigation,” Mr. Booker said.
Mr. Mueller’s team has said the president isn’t a “target” of the investigation, which is looking into suspected collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign in 2016.
Mr. Schumer accused the president of using Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to thwart the special counsel’s investigation. In earlier writings, Judge Kavanaugh expressed the view that presidents, as heads of the entire executive branch of government, should not be burdened by criminal investigations until after they leave office.
“He’s worried Mr. Mueller will go to the court and ask that the president be subpoenaed,” Mr. Schumer said of the president. “President Trump knows that Kavanaugh will be a barrier to preventing that investigation from going there.”
The Democratic leader asserted, “Judge Kavanaugh’s background as a partisan political operative seems exactly like the kind of man President Trump would want on the Supreme Court if legal issues from the Mueller probe arise: deferential to a fault to executive authority, and with a long track record of partisan politics.”
Mr. Grassley said Democrats’ arguments are “obstruction masquerading as silliness.”
“President Clinton appointed Justice [Stephen G.] Breyer while the independent counsel was investigating the president over Whitewater,” Mr. Grassley said on the Senate floor. “At the time, his documents were under a grand jury subpoena. What other constitutional powers do the proponents of this argument believe the president should surrender simply because of an investigation?”
Senators in the crosshairs
Liberal activists vow to pressure two moderate Republican senators who support abortion rights: Susan M. Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Ms. Murkowski, who voted to confirm Judge Kavanaugh for the appeals court in 2006, said Tuesday that his nomination to the Supreme Court “does put it into a different category.”
“There’s more to review,” Ms. Murkowski said. “I’m going to take my time.”
Democrats and their allies also are hoping to slow down or derail the nomination with an exhaustive request for work records of the nominee. The first lawsuits were filed Tuesday demanding access to Judge Kavanaugh’s records from his time in the George W. Bush White House from 2001 to 2006, first as staff secretary and then as associate counsel, and from his time on the team of special counsel Kenneth W. Starr in the 1990s.
Fix the Court, an activist group, says it requested both sets of records long ago — in the case of the White House documents, the request was filed last year — but has yet to see anything.
“Federal agencies seem determined to make it as difficult as possible to obtain public records from judicial nominees,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court.
Of all the judges on Mr. Trump’s short list for the high court, Judge Kavanaugh had the lengthiest pedigree — and paper trail — in Washington. Internal White House communications are generally shielded from open-records laws, but communications with outside departments and agencies are not. Fix the Court requested communications between Judge Kavanaugh and the Justice Department.
The National Archives is already at work looking over which Kavanaugh documents it can release. That universe is likely larger than documents available under the Freedom of Information Act.
Mr. Schumer said he wants to see the documents produced before the Senate gets deep into vetting the nomination. He said it’s the same standard Democrats followed when they controlled the Senate and confirmed Justice Elena Kagan under President Obama.
“We’re not trying to delay. We just think it’s important to have these. The sooner, the better,” he said.
A bipartisan group of 34 of Judge Kavanaugh’s former law clerks wrote in support of his nomination Tuesday to Mr. Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat.
“We never once saw [Judge Kavanaugh] take a shortcut, treat a case as unimportant, or search for an easy answer,” they wrote. “Instead, in each case, large or small, he masters every detail and rereads every precedent. He listens carefully to the views of his colleagues and clerks, even — indeed, especially — when they differ from his own.”
The NAACP’s Ms. Proll, however, called Judge Kavanaugh a “dangerous ideologue” and said the group has a message for lawmakers ahead of a confirmation vote.
“To each and every senator, we say this is the civil rights vote of your career,” she said. “We will be watching closely. Make no mistake — we are in the fight of our lives. We hope you are prepared for battle.”
The White House also distributed a letter Tuesday night from dozens of Judge Kavanaugh’s former classmates at Georgetown Prep high school and other alumni, praising his attributes. They included Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees.
“He is a devoted son, husband, father and friend and despite his great achievements, he remains the same grounded and approachable person that we met in high school,” they wrote to senators. “He has consistently demonstrated his dedication to the premise that the
pursuit of helping people, and not a political objective, fulfills the promise of human potential and governmental purpose.”
⦁ Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.