Some senators use the visits to probe the nominee’s judicial philosophy, while others treat it more like a photo op.
Since being nominated July 9, Kavanaugh has met with 47 senators — all but one of them Republican — at a rapid clip. The meetings have created growing momentum for Kavanaugh among Republicans that Democrats may be hard-pressed to stop. Even one early skeptic, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, is now a yes vote.
Still, the most challenging meetings for Kavanaugh are yet to come.
Two key Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, remain among the holdouts. They plan to meet with the judge this month. But even those two independent-minded senators, who both support abortion rights, may be unwilling to break with their party and prevent Trump from filling a second seat on the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh is also likely to meet with Democrats in mid-August, and they are certain to press the judge on a variety of hot-button issues. Only one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has met with Kavanaugh so far, and a person familiar with that session said Kavanaugh stressed his independence.
The Republicans who have already met with Kavanaugh are leaving the meetings increasingly confident in Trump’s choice.
Sen. David Perdue of Georgia said he asked the judge what he holds important.
“We talked about how the partisanship really has created this gridlock and therefore it weakens us in terms of standing up,” said Perdue, a close ally of the president. “He says, ’Well, my desire all along has been to be a very studious defender of the Constitution and try to interpret the law, not make law.”
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said he was satisfied that Kavanaugh’s earlier skepticism of special counsel investigations — like Mueller’s probe — was rooted in his work on Kenneth Starr’s team investigating Bill Clinton, rather than the events of today. “I don’t see how the two can be intertwined,” Tillis said.
GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said he did not broach the topic because he is already convinced Kavanaugh’s writings are not applicable to Mueller’s probe. “I didn’t take it that we shouldn’t do investigations. At all,” Lankford said.
“The fact of the matter is Judge Kavanaugh is going to sit on the United States Supreme Court when we’re through,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Late last week, Democrats lost ground in their fight to unearth some 1 million documents related to Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary at the Bush White House, a three-year stint on his resume that Republicans say is irrelevant to his qualifications for the court. Republicans have not asked for the records, and the National Archives has told Democrats it cannot process their request without GOP support.
Kristine Lucius, the executive vice president for policy at the advocacy group The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, is pushing for the full release of the Kavanaugh documents and not those being handpicked by Republicans. She objects to “the notion that we would just have a curtain within three years of his record.”
Democrats now plan to take their case directly to Kavanaugh, potentially turning the “courtesy calls” into cross-examination sessions of his thoughts on Bush-era topics like the detention of terrorism suspects and signing statements on legislation. Those subjects are likely covered in the documents Republicans refuse to seek.