As Hearings Begin, Support For Kavanaugh Nomination Falls Along Party Lines
The confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh begin today, but the outcome seems foreordained.
Starting today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin what is expected to be a week of hearings on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, which begins its new term in less than a month. As expected, support for the nomination is falling roughly along party lines:
A plurality of voters support confirming Brett Kavanaugh on the eve of Senate hearings into his nomination to the Supreme Court, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
Only 37 percent of voters say the Senate should vote to confirm Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s choice to replace former Justice Anthony Kennedy. But evenfewer — roughly three-in-10, or 29 percent — say the Senate shouldn’t vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Another third, 34 percent, are undecided.
Among Republican voters, two-thirds, 67 percent, support confirming Kavanaugh, compared to only 8 percent who think the Senate shouldn’t confirm him. A majority of Democratic voters, 53 percent, say they Senate shouldn’t confirm Kavanaugh, while 15 percent say it should.
Independents tilt slightly toward confirming Kavanaugh, 32 percent to 23 percent, with 45 percent expressing no opinion.
Views of Kavanaugh have been stable since POLITICO/Morning Consult began asking the question after his appointment: Support for confirming Kavanaugh has ranged between 33 percent and 40 percent, while opposition has tracked between 26 percent and 29 percent.’
Other polls show higher levels of opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. In a Fox News poll last month, as many voters said they would not vote to confirm Kavanaugh (46 percent) as said they would confirm him (45 percent).
Voters surveyed in the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll were asked whether senators should make Kavanaugh’s qualifications to serve on the high court their primary criteria, or whether they should mostly consider the nominee’s positions on key issues that could come before the court in his tenure.
“Since President Trump announced Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court nominee, there’s been a notable uptick in voters across the political spectrum who say the nominee should be judged fundamentally on his qualifications,” said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s managing director. “This week, 66 percent of Republicans, 56 percent of independents and 41 percent of Democrats say senators should vote based primarily on whether Kavanaugh is qualified, compared to 63 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of independents and 35 percent of Democrats who said the same in July.”
On the issues, the poll shows pluralities or majoritiesof voters want the next justice to support abortion rights (51 percent), same-sex marriage (46 percent), the death penalty (51 percent), affirmative action (46 percent) and protecting so-called “Dreamers” from deportation (51 percent).
On some level, these hearings have somewhat of an anti-climactic feel to them since it seems apparent where this process is going to end up at some point over the next 14 to 21 days. When Kavanaugh’s nomination was first announced in July, there was at least some question about how easy it would be for the GOP to get the nomination through the Senate notwithstanding the fact that the GOP holds the majority in that body and the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees had been removed last year during the Gorsuch hearing. In part, this was because the 51-49 majority was really only at 50-49 given the fact that John McCain was absent from Washington due to ill health and likely would have been unable to return to vote on the nomination. This would have meant that it would take just one Republican defection to potentially sink the nomination. With McCain’s death, though, it is likely that the Governor of Arizona will name a replacement perhaps as early as this week. Under Arizona law, that replacement, who will serve until a Special Election can be held in 2020, must be a member of McCain’s party, thus putting the GOP majority back at 51-49. Additionally, while there was some question about the potential for a defection by Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, or Rand Paul, that no longer appears likely. Finally, in addition to the lack of GOP defections, it seems likely that we’ll see at least three Democratic Senators who are up for re-election in 2018 in red states will cross party lines to support Kavanaugh. The most likely Democrats to do this, of course, are Joe Manchin, Joe Donelly, and Heidi Heitkamp, all three of whom crossed party lines to vote for Neil Gorsuch last year, and they could be joined by other vulnerable red-state Democrats such as Jon Tester of Montana and Bill Nelson of Florida.
As for the hearings themselves, they begin this morning at 9:30 am with opening statements by the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This process alone is likely to take up the better part of today. In addition to opening statements from the committee members, there will also be statements of support and introductions made on Kavanaugh’s behalf by former Senators and other officials. This process is likely to take up the better part of today, meaning that it could be that we won’t get to the actual questioning of Kavanaugh until tomorrow’s session of the committee. In any case, the entire hearing, including statements by groups in support of and opposed to Kavanaugh who will appear after Kavanaugh is finished, is expected to take four days and the committee will likely meet next week to vote on whether or not to send the nomination to the floor. That vote will no doubt fall along party lines but it will succeed given that the GOP has the majority on the committee. From there the nomination will head to the Senate floor where it will likely face a final vote sometime during the week of September 17th. The outcome of that vote seems fairly easy to predict.
Over at The Washington Post, Justin Wedeking pushes back against the idea that the hearings that start this morning will be just theater. To some extent, I agree with this argument. Even if it doesn’t end up having an impact on the outcome of this particular nomination fight, the hearing is likely to have an impact on the upcoming midterm elections for both political parties, and could also help shape the political debate heading into the 2020 elections as well. It will also likely shape how both sides prepare for what may be future Supreme Court nomination fights during the remaining time that President Trump is in office and afterward. As far as the outcome of this nomination goes, though, the hearings are unlikely to make all that much of a difference. Absent some sort of unexpected revelation, which seems unlikely at this point, Kavanaugh will be confirmed on a mostly party-line vote and will take his place on the Supreme Court by the end of this month. That much, at least, is basically guaranteed.