Brett Kavanaugh avoided glaring missteps — and most tough Democratic questions — at his confirmation hearing. But that’s not stopping the Supreme Court nominee’s liberal critics from unleashing new ads and grassroots campaigns in one last shot at derailing him.
Their goal is to keep pressure on the dwindling number of senators still undecided on President Donald Trump’s high court pick. Abortion-rights groups are playing a key role: Planned Parenthood Action Fund is unleashing a new six-figure ad buy in Maine urging GOP Sen. Susan Collins to vote no, while NARAL Pro-Choice America is up with new ads hitting Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), an early Kavanaugh backer fighting for his political life in a swing state.
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Those two ad buys, which POLITICO obtained ahead of their release, underscore the intensity with which Democrats and their off-the-Hill allies have pursued the fight against Kavanaugh, whose confirmation promises to tip the balance of the nation’s highest court for decades to come.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund spokeswoman Erica Sackin phrased the choice for Collins in stark terms, telling reporters Tuesday that women “cannot trust Brett Kavanaugh.”
But the barrage has done little to shake the 53-year-old appellate judge’s strong prospects for confirmation before the Supreme Court’s new term starts next month, checking a key box for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ahead of the midterm elections.
A chamber divided 51-49 means that Democrats must win over Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) while keeping their entire caucus united against Kavanaugh. It’s an outcome that Republicans and their allies are notably bullish about preventing.
“I don’t think it has a chance of working, because of the quality of the candidate,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) of the pressure on his more moderate colleague Collins, who serves with him on the intelligence committee. “I’m pretty confident.”
When Collins and Murkowski “complete their due diligence, I think they’ll vote for him,” agreed Carrie Severino, chief counsel at the conservative Judicial Crisis Network. Severino’s group is currently running $600,000 worth of pro-Kavanaugh ads and not ruling out another buy in the home stretch of the fight to get him confirmed this month.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday that he’s not heard anything in private conversations to suggest that either of his two more moderate GOP colleagues would vote against the high-court nominee.
Democrats and progressive groups off the Hill, however, are only redoubling their efforts. Demand Justice, recently created to give the left a stronger voice in the judicial wars, is set to release a new poll Tuesday night showing that five Democrats facing reelection in red states would face scant risk with undecided voters – but turn off their own base – if they support Kavanaugh.
And the party’s members on the Judiciary Committee aren’t abandoning their quest for hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from the nominee’s past that Republicans have not publicly released. “We are going to be going to court sometime this week to compel compliance” with past Kavanaugh documents requests under the Freedom of Information Act, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told a TV station in his home state on Tuesday.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told POLITICO that organized labor plans to try to elevate Kavanaugh to the same level of political toxicity that Obamacare repeal ended up achieving on the left.
“We are going to organize the three votes that are required to block this nomination. It’s wrong for the country,” Henry told the “Women Rule” podcast for an interview to be released Wednesday.
Meanwhile, several crucial Democratic swing vote senators are still working to schedule meetings with the nominee. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has still not met with Kavanaugh despite weeks of trying to get a sit-down on the books, an aide said. And Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is facing a barrage of ads pressuring him to support the nominee, is still angling for a meeting.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is working on setting up a second meeting with Kavanaugh after last week’s hearings, an aide said. Manchin and Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp both supported Neil Gorsuch last year. And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is going to at least study Kavanaugh’s questions for the record after the hearing before making a decision.
The White House is currently working through what one official there estimated was more than 500 written questions that Judiciary Committee members posed to Kavanaugh after the hearings, with scheduling of further meetings expected to wait until after that massive task is complete.
No Democrats or Republican swing votes have given an exact timeline on their decisions, but they will have to make them soon. Kavanaugh is on track to make it to the Senate floor in about two weeks, with a committee vote on track for the week of Sept. 20. That vote is likely to fall along partisan lines.
However, the Yom Kippur holiday could create a scheduling crunch and delay the committee vote, which typically occurs on Thursdays. If the vote is delayed until the last week of September, it could also affect the ability of the Senate to deal with government funding, which expires on Sept. 30.
Collins has sounded positive notes about Kavanaugh and seems confident he will protect the “settled law” of Roe. v. Wade. But she is still undecided, and Planned Parenthood’s new ads — which depict a group of women voters in Maine discussing their concerns with Kavanaugh — are aimed directly at her.
And as Democrats pressed the perjury argument, Collins said she would study the matter and it would be a “major problem” for her if he lied, she told the Portland Press Herald. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who is also undecided, told the paper he is “very skeptical” about Kavanaugh.
But since Kavanaugh’s hearing, the Democratic “no” votes have started to pile up among the rank-and-file, leaving moderate Democrats increasingly on an island as undecideds. Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) all announced their opposition to Kavanaugh since the hearings wrapped up.
Bennet, who fretted over the rules change last year that killed the supermajority requirement for Supreme Court nominees, said he regretted the chamber has devolved into “rank partisanship” on judicial nominees, but nonetheless declared his opposition on Tuesday.
“I have concluded that Judge Kavanaugh will create a new Supreme Court majority that will threaten women’s reproductive rights, roll back essential environmental regulations, and favor large corporations over workers,” Bennet said in a statement.