Senate Democrats Come Out Swinging in Long-Shot Fight to Block Kavanaugh

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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats, facing an uphill struggle to reject the nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, opened a broad attack on Tuesday, painting him as an arch-conservative who would roll back abortion rights, undo health care protections, ease gun restrictions and protect President Trump against the threat of impeachment.

But the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, excoriated Democrats for engaging in what he called “cheap political fear-mongering,” and for declaring their opposition to Judge Kavanaugh even before his nomination was announced.

“They wrote statements of opposition only to fill in the name later,” the ordinarily staid Mr. McConnell said, growing exercised as he delivered his customary morning remarks on the Senate floor. “Senate Democrats were on record opposing him before he’d even been named! Just fill in the name! Whoever it is, we’re against.”

And a key Republican swing vote, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, quickly signaled just how hard it will be for Democrats to pull any Republicans into the opposition. “When you look at the credentials that Judge Kavanaugh brings to the job, it will be very difficult for anyone to argue that he’s not qualified,” she told reporters.

[Read more about Mr. Trump’s selection of Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.]

As Judge Kavanaugh arrived at the Capitol to meet with the Republican leader and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee’s Democrats and the Democratic leader took to the Supreme Court steps to deliver a direct appeal to Americans to rise up in opposition to his nomination.

“If you are a young woman in America or care about a young woman in America, pay attention to this,” said Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California. “It will affect your life.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut issued a specific plea to the survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.: “If you care about common-sense gun violence protections, Judge Kavanaugh is your worst nightmare.”

Before Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination on Monday night, Democrats had centered their strategy on abortion rights and health care. But the judge has given them a new line of attack: a 1998 law review article that he wrote casting doubt on whether a president could be indicted — a theory that goes to the heart of the special counsel’s investigation of Mr. Trump.

“Whether the Constitution allows indictment of a sitting president is debatable,” the judge wrote then.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said Democrats would use confirmation hearings to drill down on those views.

“We knew with any of the 25 nominees that health care and women’s health, right to choose would be important,” Mr. Schumer said, referring to the list of potential candidates drawn up for Mr. Trump by conservative groups during the 2016 campaign. “But Kavanaugh brings a new prominence to the issue of executive power, because he is almost certainly the most hard right of all of the 25. He is almost certainly the one who would most yield to presidential power.”

[Here is how the elections in November could affect the confirmation process — and vice versa.]

Democrats are well aware that they will have a difficult time persuading the Senate to reject Judge Kavanaugh. The judge is widely respected in Washington and in legal circles, and has an Ivy League pedigree, much like Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Mr. Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee. Justice Gorsuch received the backing of three red-state Democrats — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

All three are facing tough re-election battles this year in states Mr. Trump won handily. None have given a hint of how they will vote on Judge Kavanaugh, but they face an exceedingly difficult choice and will undoubtedly be under intense pressure at home.

Vice President Mike Pence appeared on a West Virginia radio program and expressed hope that Mr. Manchin would be among those voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

“At the end of the day, I truly do believe this will be a choice for Senator Manchin — whether he’s going to stand with Chuck Schumer and liberals in Washington, D.C., who are prepared to oppose the most qualified, the most deserving nominee to the Supreme Court in the United States today,” Mr. Pence said.

Fresh off Mr. Trump’s announcement Monday night, Judge Kavanaugh came to the Capitol on Tuesday to begin visiting with senators. Joined by Mr. Pence, he met with Mr. McConnell, who praised his selection.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell accused Democrats of wanting to treat Judge Kavanaugh as if he were a politician running for office, rather than a judge.

Mr. McConnell argued that it would be improper if Democrats tried to force the judge to say how he would decide issues in hypothetical cases.

“Forget that the cases don’t even exist yet,” Mr. McConnell said. “Forget the total absence of any facts, legal arguments or research. Forget how inappropriate and undesirable it would be for a judge to predetermine a ruling before either side’s lawyers uttered a single word.”

Supporters of Judge Kavanaugh were mobilizing as well. Leading social conservative political groups, like the Family Research Council, the Susan B. Anthony List, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Concerned Women for America, quickly praised Judge Kavanaugh as a qualified pick and are rallying the anti-abortion grass roots to support his confirmation with ads, rallies and online campaigns.

Conservative evangelicals and Catholics have long said they would be happy with any of the potential anti-abortion nominees on Mr. Trump’s list. But behind the scenes, some had hoped for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom they saw as a counterpoint to the court’s three left-leaning women and who would certainly have ignited a skirmish in the culture wars at a critical moment ahead of the midterm elections.

Unlike when Justice Gorsuch was announced, top anti-abortion evangelical and Catholic leaders were not invited to the White House on Monday evening.

One conservative Christian group, the American Family Association, which had supported Judge Barrett, already has called on voters to oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, citing concerns about his positions on religious liberty and abortion. The group issued a statement calling him “simply the wrong nominee — even a bad nominee.”

The Family Leader, an Iowa social conservative organization, pointed out on its website that Judge Kavanaugh’s record on abortion is “less certain” and that the question of “whether or not he would assert an unborn child’s right to life under the 14th Amendment is unknown.”

But for now, any unease among the base is not likely to have any real operational effect. Conservative efforts to support the nominee generally remain the same no matter the pick, and attacks by Democrats on abortion are likely to only make it easier to energize the conservative grass roots.

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