Senators signal Kavanaugh appears on solid ground to win confirmation

Both parties seemingly willing to vote for nominee

By MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT
Copyright 2018 CNN

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va.

(CNN) - A number of key senators in both parties are sounding positive about Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, a clear sign that President Donald Trump's nominee stands a strong chance of winning a pivotal seat on the highest court in the land.

"Not so far," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, told CNN Wednesday afternoon when asked if anything she's heard so far would be considered disqualifying.

"No, I haven't seen anything from that standpoint," Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said when asked if he's heard anything that would lead him to vote no. "He's handled himself very professionally."

The two red-state Democrats, who face tough re-election battles this fall, cautioned that they would wait until this week's hearings to conclude to ultimately make a decision. But they are hardly the only swing votes who may provide critical support to ensure Kavanaugh's confirmation to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. One swing-vote senator is likely to support Kavanaugh, something that would almost certainly ensure his confirmation, a source with direct knowledge told CNN.

To win confirmation, Republicans can only afford to lose one of their own if all Democrats vote against Kavanaugh. But not only are there signs that some Democrats may ultimately support Kavanaugh, but no Republicans appear to be wavering either. The two most likely GOP defectors, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both have sounded positive about Kavanaugh.

And Collins suggested she wasn't concerned when asked Tuesday evening about Democratic complaints over the Trump administration's decision to withhold more than 100,000 pages of documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee over claims of privilege.

"I don't really understand their level of outrage when they had already made clear they were going to vote against any nominee that the President put forward," Collins told CNN, echoing Republican criticism of their Democratic counterparts.

Other GOP senators are unlikely to defect, including some of the most persistent Trump critics, like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.

Asked if he would register his long-standing objections with Trump by opposing Kavanaugh, Flake said: "I don't think who nominates him should be disqualifying. ... Some people want me to become a liberal because I disagree with President Trump. I disagree with him mostly because I'm a conservative; conservatives believe in the rule of law."

The vote over Kavanaugh comes at a crucial juncture in the campaign season -- and presents a huge risk for Democrats no matter what they do. If the vulnerable Democrats support Kavanaugh, they are likely to infuriate their base and could turn off their most die-hard supporters in an election where turnout will be critical. But if they oppose Kavanaugh, they would undercut their arguments of being bipartisan-minded senators in states with a large number of Republican voters.

The votes of several other Democrats also will be heavily courted, including Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, who is another endangered senator and voted last year to confirm Trump's other Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. Moreover, Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana are both under scrutiny, though they both voted against Gorsuch even as they're locked in difficult re-election battles this fall.

Sen. Doug Jones, the Democrat from Alabama who won his special election after Gorsuch was confirmed, was non-committal when asked about Kavanaugh on Wednesday.

"I'm still going through my process," he told CNN.

Other Democrats voiced criticism at the process so far, including Manchin, who lashed out at both parties for their handling of this Supreme Court fight and other recent battles.

"Both sides have been deplorable in how they've handled themselves," Manchin said. "That's what makes people sick."

Manchin also took a shot at Republicans for refusing to even meet with then-President Barack Obama's Supreme Court choice, Merrick Garland -- and at some of his Democratic colleagues for announcing their opposition to Kavanaugh before he was nominated.

"Anybody who announces how they're going to vote before a President makes their appointment, there's no commonsense or reasoning in that whatsoever," Manchin said.

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