Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that he is worried about Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s views on government surveillance programs, raising a potential snag in the closely divided confirmation battle.
Speaking on “Fox & Friends,” the libertarian lawmaker said he is undecided on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. Mr. Paul said he disagrees with the nominee’s 2015 ruling at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the federal government’s metadata collection was “entirely consistent” with the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.
“I’m concerned about Kavanaugh,” said Mr. Paul, calling the nominee’s ruling “horribly wrong.”
In 2015, Judge Kavanaugh wrote a concurring opinion to an appeals court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s program of warrantless phone records collection. The program allowed the government to track information about whom a person in the U.S. calls but not the content of the calls. The judge wrote that the “critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy.”
“I disagree completely,” said Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican, adding that he is keeping an open mind and wants to meet with the nominee.
“There are 10 amendments listed in Bill of Rights, so the Fourth Amendment’s one of them, so we’re already down one. Let’s see how he does on the other nine,” Mr. Paul said.
Fifty votes are needed for confirmation, and Republicans can’t afford to lose many votes, if any. Republicans control the Senate by a margin of 51-49, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, is absent as he fights brain cancer.
The White House hopes to have Judge Kavanaugh confirmed by mid-September.
No Republican senators have come out against the nominee, but a handful of senators in both parties have said they are reserving judgment as they consider President Trump’s choice to succeed retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Two pro-choice moderate Republicans, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, haven’t said how they intend to vote.
Activist groups opposing and supporting the nominee are pouring millions of dollars into campaigns in Maine, Alaska and several red states with Democratic senators up for re-election this year.
Two White House allies, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, expressed confidence Sunday that Judge Kavanaugh will win confirmation.
“Neil Gorsuch got 54 votes when he was confirmed, and I think Brett Kavanaugh brings a similar academic and experience background and judicial philosophy that I think most people on my side of the aisle will find acceptable,” Mr. Cornyn said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” referring to the president’s first Supreme Court nominee. “But I know everybody feels serious about doing their job, doing their due diligence.”
Mr. Christie, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” predicted that Judge Kavanaugh will receive 56 or 57 votes for confirmation. He said Mr. Trump nominated a “relatively mainstream conservative,” like Justice Gorsuch, who has a 12-year record on the court of appeals open for scrutiny.
“You want to know what Brett Kavanaugh thinks about the Constitution? Look at what he’s written over the last 12 years on the D.C. Circuit,” Mr. Christie said. “The president didn’t pick somebody, as some people said he would, that had no record and would be a mystery.”
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, said the nomination must be stopped.
“You know, I used to worry that they wanted to turn the clock back to the 1950s,” she said Friday at an American Federation of Teachers event. “Now I worry they want to turn it back to the 1850s. These will be urgent fights. The stakes could not be higher.”
Mrs. Clinton said the nomination “holds out the threat of devastating consequences for workers’ rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights, including those to make our own health decisions. It is a blatant attempt by this administration to shift the balance of the court for decades and to reverse decades of progress.”
Judge Kavanaugh is expected to return to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to resume meetings with individual senators.
The White House has slammed liberals’ “smear campaign” against the nominee over accusations that he may have condoned sexual harassment by a federal judge with whom he worked in 1991.
Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the White House on the confirmation effort, and several other supporters of the nominee said Judge Kavanaugh “had never heard any allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment” by former Judge Alex Kozinski before reports surfaced late last year.
“As predictable as it is shameful, the left-wing partisan smear campaign against a distinguished, lifelong public servant has begun,” Ms. Kupec said. “Everyone who knows Judge Kavanaugh knows he believes all people deserve respect, including at the workplace.”
The liberal feminist group Ultraviolet last week called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to question whether Judge Kavanaugh, as a clerk to Judge Kozinski in the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, knew about reports that Judge Kozinski sexually harassed fellow clerks.
Judge Kozinski retired abruptly in December after several women, including former clerks, accused him of showing them pornography, forcibly kissing them and pressuring them to have sex.
Ultraviolet, part of the #MeToo movement, is urging the Judiciary Committee to investigate what Judge Kavanaugh knew about Judge Kozinski’s actions at the time.
Ms. Kupec said Judge Kavanaugh “mentors and supports his law clerks — a majority of whom are women — and has always ensured that all of his employees are treated with respect and dignity.”
The White House released statements from people who had worked with Judge Kozinski and Judge Kavanaugh, saying they never witnessed anything improper by the nominee.