Senate Democrats on Wednesday embraced a last-ditch attempt to derail Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, one that Republicans swiftly dismissed as a political ploy to pump the brakes on Kavanaugh’s almost inevitable confirmation.
More than a dozen Democrats said the Senate Judiciary Committee should delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in light of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea in which the attorney implicates his former client, President Donald Trump, in alleged campaign-finance violations.
“It is unseemly for the president of the United States to be picking a Supreme Court justice who could soon be, effectively, a juror in a case involving the president himself,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor.
Kavanaugh’s first hearing is scheduled for Sept. 4, and Democrats have taken heat from Republicans for attempting to delay and derail the nomination. But the minority party suddenly had a new opening on Tuesday after Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in New York. As part of that deal, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts and said Trump directed him to commit campaign-finance violations when Cohen arranged to pay women who claimed they had affairs with Trump. The payments were made in exchange for the women’s silence.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the judiciary committee, immediately rejected Democrats’ calls to delay the confirmation process. Critics said Democrats’ strategy on the Kavanaugh nomination appeared increasingly desperate.
“I’ve had legal cases like that where you have to throw deep. The problem with throwing deep is sometimes you get intercepted,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), a member of the judiciary committee, told The Daily Beast. “I think Chuck is in a tough spot. His base is asking him to almost defend the indefensible, and that is that Judge Kavanaugh isn’t qualified to be on the bench.”
Schumer’s left flank has been critical of him and his leadership team because some Democratic senators who hail from conservative states and are facing re-election this year are still considering voting for Kavanaugh—and at least a few of them are expected to vote in favor of the nomination.
“If Dems can't oppose Kavanaugh now, it means they're looking to get to yes & leaders are giving them a pass,” Adam Jentleson, a former top aide to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), wrote on Twitter.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) defended Schumer and noted that his party is essentially powerless in derailing the nomination, especially if all Republicans vote in favor of Kavanaugh—a prospect that is appearing increasingly likely as the first hearing date approaches.
“I can just tell my friends on the left, please allow us to sit down at the table and go through the Senate rules and the limited options we have in the minority,” Durbin told The Daily Beast.
At least one Democrat rejected Schumer’s calls for a delay in the confirmation process. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), a conservative Democrat who is likely to vote for Kavanaugh, said “that’s not right [because] we have a job to do.”
In the meantime, Democrats have been putting the spotlight on other issues that Kavanaugh could rule on if he is confirmed to the high court, including pre-existing conditions, abortions rights, and presidential powers.