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Brett Kavanaugh Must Make His Case, Senate Democrats Say

Minority cites standards GOP used for previous nominees like Elena Kagan

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, center, walks up the Capitol's Senate steps with Vice President Mike Pence for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on July 10, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, center, walks up the Capitol's Senate steps with Vice President Mike Pence for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on July 10, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh made his first appearances Tuesday on Capitol Hill, several Senate Democrats said the judge had to make his case for their support.

For instance, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee that will oversee Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. He pressed Republicans to use their own standard for Elena Kagan, now a Supreme Court Justice nominated by former President Barack Obama.

Judiciary members should seek “all of his writings and memos from his time at the White House. And, of course, Republicans said they had to do that with Elena Kagan,” Leahy said, noting that search turned up “hundreds of thousands of pages.”

“And I agreed with them,” he told reporters Tuesday. “So, I’m sure they wouldn’t want to have a different standard for him than they had for her.” Kagan worked in the Clinton White House and was solicitor general under Obama; Kavanaugh worked for both the elder and younger Bush.

At one point Tuesday, when the nominee was upstairs meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, vulnerable North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, whom the White House has signaled it will lean on, walked quickly — practically jogging — to get to her next destination as a throng of reporters asked her about Kavanaugh.

Watch: Doing the SCOTUS Math: Seven Senators, Three Factions, One Crucial Vote

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Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who soon will cast his first vote on a Supreme Court nominee, appeared bemused that reporters wanted to know his views of Kavanaugh and his extensive paper trail of policy views and legal opinions less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump revealed him as his pick.

“I want to do my investigative work,” the former U.S. attorney said as reporters followed him up an escalator.

Before Pence and Kavanaugh arrived at the Capitol, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he got a call from Trump about the nomination before the president departed for a weeklong European swing.

“I talked to him this morning. He was very pleased with his pick. And I said, ‘You should be,’” Graham recalled. “This guy is sort of a once-in-a-generation legal mind. I said, ‘You’ve given us a lot to work with here, Mr. President, it was really a home run pick.’”

With Democrats releasing a fleet of statements either declaring immediate opposition or deep skepticism about Kavanaugh’s previous writings, decisions and policy stances, Graham issued something of a warning to the minority party.

“I voted for [Sonia] Sotomayor and Kagan not because I would have chosen them, but because I thought they were qualified,” he said. “I dare any Democrat to tell me this man’s not qualified. … The only way you can vote against him is just for ideological reasons. Now, if you want to turn every nomination into an ideological contest, I’ll never vote [for] another Democrat again if that’s going to be the standard.”

Graham expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed — after a fight — rather easily on the Senate floor with some Democrats joining Republicans in supporting the nomination. So, too, does Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who at times has harshly criticized Trump.

“It’s a strong pick. I’ve seen nothing disqualifying,” Flake said.

Another issue Kavanaugh’s White House nomination team might have to confront is the question of whether Trump is attempting to “pack the court” by leaning on older conservative justices to retire so young replacements with similar ideological views can take over their seats for decades to come.

Asked earlier in the day during a CNN interview if Trump told retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy he would nominate Kavanaugh, his former clerk, if he stepped down, White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny that conversation took place.

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