Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), viewed as the most endangered Democratic Senate incumbent in the country, announced Thursday afternoon that she will vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
In a lengthy statement explaining her decision, Heitkamp said that both parties poorly handled the nomination process, and cited the fact that she had voted in favor of Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s previous SCOTUS nominee, who was confirmed in 2017.
Heitkamp expressed concerns about Kavanaugh’s conduct during his highly watched testimony before the Senate judiciary committee last Thursday, in which he angrily responded to the accusation that he sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers.
“Last Thursday’s hearing called into question Judge Kavanaugh’s current temperament, honesty and impartiality,” Heitkamp wrote. “These are critical traits for any nominee to serve on the highest court in the country.”
Describing Dr. Ford’s testimony, however, Heitkamp said it was “heartfelt, credible and persuasive.”
“It took great courage and also came at great personal cost. She had nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward with her deeply personal story,” she added, noting that she has since heard from other survivors in North Dakota sharing their stories of personal trauma.
In 2017, Heitkamp went on Meet the Press and recounted a story of her conversation with a law enforcement officer who seemed to defend domestic violence.
“I was talking about what happens to women and what happens when there’s violence in the home,” Heitkamp said. “After I got done, [he] came up to me, and he pretty much put his finger in my face, and he said, ‘Listen here. Men will always beat their wives, and you can’t stop ’em.’"
Heitkamp joins a group of incumbent Democrats running for re-election in states that President Trump handily won in 2016 to announce their opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination. And while Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have not seen their poll numbers drastically decline after announcing their decisions, Heitkamp has already been polled as trailing by as much as 12 points behind her opponent, Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer.
“She may lose. But in the morning, when she’s brushing her teeth, she needs to like the person she sees,” Heitkamp’s brother Joel, a radio host and former member of the North Dakota Senate, explained Thursday afternoon on MSNBC.
Heitkamp’s campaign also aggressively highlighted the ugly remarks of her opponent, who questioned whether Ford’s allegations of sexual assault would disqualify Kavanaugh even if they were proven true.
“Even if it's all true, does it disqualify him? It certainly means that he did something really bad 36 years ago, but does it disqualify him from the Supreme Court?” Cramer said.
All eyes now turn to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who, as of Thursday afternoon, has not yet indicated how he will vote on the nomination. Polls show him with a comfortable lead in a deep-red state where Trump won nearly 69 percent of the 2016 vote.
—Additional contribution by Julia Arciga.