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Withdrawn Nomination Gives Democrats Hope in Brett Kavanaugh Fight

Small margin in Senate provides little wiggle room for Supreme Court nominee

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will continue to meet with senators this week, even though Democrats want to see documents from his time working in the White House for George W. Bush. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will continue to meet with senators this week, even though Democrats want to see documents from his time working in the White House for George W. Bush. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The last-minute White House withdrawal of an appeals court nominee on the Senate floor Thursday underscores just how thin of a margin Republicans have on the looming fight over President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s lone black Republican, planned to vote Thursday against the nomination of Ryan Bounds of Oregon to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based on some writings by Bounds in college. Republicans have only 50 votes right now because Sen. John McCain of Arizona is battling brain cancer at home.

The loss of one Republican vote would have scuttled the Bounds confirmation, if Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them also voted against it. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said the White House decided to withdraw the nomination rather than lose.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and the advocacy groups that oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court immediately saw the parallels to that fight.

“Those saying that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation is inevitable need to check out what just happened with Ryan Bounds on the Senate floor…,” Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive officer of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said on Twitter.

The Leadership Conference has raised concerns about Kavanaugh’s nomination and has cautioned against rushing through the process. No Senate Democrats have met with Kavanaugh yet, waiting until there is progress on getting access to his lengthy paper trail about his prior political work.

Schumer has spoken about plenty of paperwork from Kavanaugh’s past work in the George W. Bush administration. Democrats have said the paperwork is necessary to vet Kavanaugh, while Republicans have suggested it is a stall tactic.

“After that, how are they going to argue that Judge Kavanaugh’s White House papers aren’t relevant to his nomination to the Supreme Court?” Schumer spokesman Matt House said in a news release. “A lower court nominee’s college writings are relevant but a Supreme Court nominee’s White House writings aren’t? I don’t think so.”

Kavanaugh’s opponents have targeted Republicans who could tip the balance. That includes Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who might oppose a nominee who appears too eager to strike at access to abortion.

But it also includes Sen. Rand Paul, who has said he is “very worried” about Kavanaugh’s views on privacy, particularly domestic spying in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Still, Republicans could get some breathing room if Democrats decide to vote for Kavanaugh. Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia are all targets for the White House because they are up for re-election in states that Trump won.

Bounds’ writings that stridently criticized a culture of campus political correctness when he attended Stanford University dominated the discussion at his confirmation hearing.

In one article, for example, Bounds used racial terms in quotes when arguing that some communities on campus believed that the “opponent is the white male and his coterie of meanspirited lackeys: ‘oreos,’ ‘twinkies,’ ‘coconuts,’ and the like.”

The withdrawal of Bounds’ nomination comes as Republicans are making a historic streak of appeals court confirmations. The Senate voted 50-49 to confirm Andrew Oldham of Texas to the 5th Circuit on Wednesday, Trump’s 23rd appeals court appointment, well more than his predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Democrats also cited the Bounds nomination as a further erosion of senatorial power over judicial nominees. Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley did not return a “blue slip” as part of a tradition that gives home-state senators a way to sign off on nominees.

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