- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is playing it coy as she gets closer to a confirmation vote on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, refusing to declare her intention on what is shaping up to be the most consequential vote of her political life.

Her decision likely won’t determine the fate of President Trump’s high court pick, but it will impact her re-election run as a Democrat in Trump country. She is in one of the tightest races on the map this year and under intense pressure from the left and the right over the confirmation vote.

Mr. Trump, who won Missouri by an 18-point margin in 2016, will increase the pressure with a “Make American Great Again” rally Thursday in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to boost her opponent, Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley.

“McCaskill’s in a difficult situation politically with the Kavanaugh vote,” said Missouri Republican Party strategist Gregg Keller. “She has to vote against Kavanaugh in order to placate the pro-abortion left. At the same time, she has to cynically hope the majority of Missouri voters will fall for the idea she’s approaching the vote with an open mind, which she isn’t.”

Pro-choice groups including Planned Parenthood, liberal ground troops that will be critical in turning out the vote for Ms. McCaskill in November, also are leaning on her to come out against Mr. Trump’s pick.

Last week, three liberal groups — Reproaction, Planned Parenthood of Great Plains-Columbia and CoMo for Progress — protested outside Ms. McCaskill’s office in Columbia, Missouri, and demanded that she vote “no” on Judge Kavanaugh.

“We want to save Roe v. Wade. Abortion access is so important for women and people in general,” Reproaction organizer Evonnia Woods told KOMU-TV.

Ms. McCaskill insists she is carefully considering the qualifications of Judge Kavanaugh, whom Senate Democrats lined up against and attempted to derail his confirmation hearings last week.

“What we’re really deciding on here is competence and qualifications but also whatever biases he might bring to the bench,” she told reporters during the raucous hearings.

The Kavanaugh vote isn’t the only area in which Ms. McCaskill is trying to painstakingly avoid angering Missouri’s Trump voters and possibly spurring them to turn out in November for Mr. Hawley.

She took aim at the anonymous author of a New York Times op-ed who last week claimed to be a senior administration official who is part of a “resistance” within the administration working to protect the country from Mr. Trump’s dangerously erratic behavior.

“I am uncomfortable with the notion that an editorial like that is written anonymously,” Ms. McCaskill said. “If, in fact, there is someone high up in the president’s administration who has serious concerns about his competence, then I think to be taken as seriously as the subject matter, it would be important for that person to come forward.”

The remarks, made in a conference call in which she was endorsed by the National Border Patrol Council that also backs Mr. Trump, was reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Mr. Hawley keeps hammering Ms. McCaskill over the Kavanaugh vote. He hit the two-term senator for the treatment of the judge and the circus atmospheres of the hearings, where there were outbursts from protesters in the audience and Senate Democrats on the dais.

“Sen. McCaskill should condemn this nonsense and condemn this outrageous behavior from her colleagues,” said Mr. Hawley. “She should call on [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer and the Democrats to treat this process with dignity, to give Judge Kavanaugh a fair hearing — and call on them to support Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. That’s what the people of this state voted for in 2016.”

Ms. McCaskill is not a member of the Judiciary Committee and therefore did not participate in the hearings. But she was one of the handful of Democrats to meet with Judge Kavanaugh.

After the Aug. 21 meeting, she said she would not make a decision until after the hearings.

The McCaskill campaign would not answer questions about her position after the final day of confirmation hearings Friday.

Several Senate Democrats running in states Mr. Trump won in 2016 face a similar dilemma over Judge Kavanaugh. They include Bill Nelson in Florida, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Joe Manchin III in West Virginia.

Ms. McCaskill and Mr. Hawley were tied in an NBC/Marist poll and a Missouri Scout poll last month, the two most recent polls.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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