Mitch McConnell: Forget Merrick Garland, GOP can confirm a Supreme Court justice in 2020 if it wants

Mitch McConnell: Forget Merrick Garland, GOP can confirm a Supreme Court justice in 2020 if it wants
CNN Poll: Majority oppose Kavanaugh, but his popularity grows with GOP
Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony for Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the East Room of the White House Monday evening, President Trump apologized to Kavanaugh and his family "on behalf of our nation" for what he called a desperate Democrat-led campaign of "lies and deception" intent on derailing his confirmation.

"On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure," Trump began. "Those who step forward to serve our country deserve a fair and dignified evaluation, not a campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception. What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency, and due process. In our country, a man or a woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."

Susan Collins Just Sealed Her Fate

Trump added that "under historic scrutiny," Kavanaugh had been "proven innocent." A series of uncorroborated and disputed sexual misconduct allegations had threatened to upend Kavanaugh's confirmation, and some top Democrats have floated further investigations and even possibly impeaching Kavanaugh.

To sustained, raucous applause, Trump entered the event Monday night flanked by Kavanaugh and former Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who hired Kavanaugh as a law clerk from 1993 to 1994. All sitting Supreme Court justices were in attendance, as well as Kavanaugh's parents, wife, and two daughters.

Trump thanked top Republicans for spearheading Kavanaugh's confirmation, and particularly praised Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Kavanaugh's elevation to the Supreme Court appeared certain only after Collins delivered a dramatic, point-by-point explanation of her vote for Kavanaugh in a floor speech on Friday afternoon. "We are indebted to Susan Collins for her brave and eloquent speech," Trump said.

The president also led a standing ovation for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whom he called a "great" leader who has done an "incredible job for the American people." Under McConnell, Republicans have now confirmed 26 federal appellate judges and two Supreme Court justices. (Kavanaugh's rise to the Supreme Court creates a new vacancy on the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.)

At the conclusion of Trump's remarks, Kennedy administered the oath to Kavanaugh as his family looked on, and the room again broke out into sustained applause. As Trump noted, it was the first time a Supreme Court justice has ever sworn in his former clerk to take his seat.

Taking the podium as the Supreme Court's newest justice, Kavanaugh acknowledged the partisan rancor that surrounded his confirmation and gripped the nation over the past two months. "I take this office with gratitude and no bitterness," he said.

"All nine of us revere the Constitution," Kavanaugh continued, referring to his new colleagues. "The Supreme Court is an institution of law. It is not a partisan or political institution. The justices do not sit on opposite sides of the aisle. … The Supreme Court is a team of nine, and I will always be a team player on a team of nine."

At times emotional, Kavanaugh praised his "amazing" and "fearless" friends for standing by him, and said that his focus now is "to be the best justice I can be."

"My goal is to be a great justice, for all Americans, and for all of America," Kavanaugh said. "I will work very hard to achieve that goal. I was not appointed to serve one party or one interest, but one nation."

He vowed to continue to "coach, teach, and tutor" — a notable promise, given that student backlash at Harvard Law School last week prompted Kavanaugh to withdraw from teaching a planned course there.

"I am an optimist. I live on the sunrise side of the mountain," Kavanaugh said, echoing a line from his fiery testimony last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I see the day that is coming, not the day that has gone."

The Monday evening oath was entirely ceremonial. Kavanaugh took his official oaths in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court on Saturday, shortly after the Senate voted to confirm him by a narrow 50-48 margin.

The event, a high-spirited flourish after a historically bitter and partisan confirmation battle, was a nationally televised opportunity for Kavanaugh to speak directly to the nation that is increasingly divided along partisan lines. Fox News polls show that GOP enthusiasm is up across the board in the wake of the Kavanaugh showdown, even though political headwinds normally work against the party of incumbent presidents in their first midterm elections.

Kavanaugh, along with his law clerks, has been at the Supreme Court preparing for his first day on the bench Tuesday. The high court is set to hear arguments in two cases about longer prison terms for repeat offenders. (Kavanaugh's four clerks all are women, the first time that has happened.)

However, the upcoming Supreme Court term is "fairly benign when it comes to hot-button issues," Adam Feldman, a Supreme Court expert who runs the blog Empirical SCOTUS, told Fox News. "This makes me think that the justices were aware of [Justice Anthony] Kennedy's likely departure when they starting granting cases for this term."

On Saturday, Chief Justice John Roberts administered Kavanaugh's constitutional oath and Kennedy administered his judicial oath. Protesters outside banged on the Supreme Court's doors, with some trying to fight their way inside. Capitol Hill police, assisting U.S. Supreme Court police, have arrested hundreds of anti-Kavanaugh protesters in recent days.


The new justice was "caught up in a hoax that was set up by the Democrats," Trump said as he left the White House earlier Monday for a quick trip to Florida. "It was all made up, it was fabricated and it's a disgrace."

The climactic 50-48 roll call vote Saturday on Kavanaugh was the closest vote to confirm a justice since 1881.

Collins, the Maine moderate Trump thanked in his opening remarks Monday, revealed on Sunday that she initially thought Kavanaugh "perhaps needed to withdraw" after she heard Christine Blasey Ford's "very compelling and painful" testimony.

But then, Collins said, "When [Kavanaugh] came back with a forceful denial, the anger and anguish he showed, and then the lack of corroboration, led me back to the fundamental issues to our legal system."

On Sunday, Collins slammed opponents' efforts to fundraise against her vote, calling them nothing more than blatant ploys to buy votes in a future election.

“They are asking me to perform an official act and if I do not do what they want, $2 million plus is going to go to my opponent. I think that if our politics has come to the point where people are trying to buy votes and buy positions, then we are in a very sad place,” Collins told CBS News' "60 Minutes."

Ultimately, every Democrat voted against Kavanaugh except for Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a deeply red state where Kavanaugh remains highly popular. Manchin is up for re-election this year.

McConnell on Sunday praised his fellow GOP senators, who he said re-established the "presumption of innocence" in confirmation hearings.

In her Senate floor speech on Friday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) resolutely defended Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh both on his judicial philosophies and against sexual assault allegations, sounding no different than right-wing GOP senators like Orrin Hatch of Utah or John Cornyn of Texas.

She validated and rewarded the Trumpian tactics of Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who stacked the deck against Christine Blasey Ford and the others who alleged sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh. Despite his clear and repeated lies, Collins lauded Kavanaughs forceful testimony to the committee denying all of the accusations.

Even after that, some in the Beltway media over the weekend were still locked in time, describing Collins, as they always have, as a moderate. One New York Times reporter actually characterized her speech as reasoned [and] carefully researched.

But these descriptions were fewer and far between compared to the past. And in Maine, where it matters, a Portland Press Herald editorial called the speech anything but reasoned and careful, clearly identifying what was either naivete or political spin:

Even in areas where experts in the field raised warnings, Collins put her judgment ahead of theirs… Only Collins appears to believe that Kavanaugh considered Roe v. Wade settled law or that he was deeply committed to preserving precedent, something legal scholars say is inconsistent with the way the Supreme Court works. It makes precedent when it wants to, and it takes only five votes to do it.

Similar to the characterizations of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) despite facts to the contrary, Collins has consistently been described as a moderate or a maverick by many establishment Washington political reporters, treating her with kid gloves in discussing possible political motivations.

Often in a Washington bubble themselves, theyve allowed Collins to perpetuate a myth that shes a principled bridge-builder who rises above partisanship, so much so that she believes it herself and thinks shes invincible. Collins appears to have no idea what shes about to face if shes seeking re-election in 2020 (and she implied she will in a CNN appearance on Sunday defending her support for Kavanaugh), drunk on the standing ovation she received from Republicans on the Senate floor and the accolades that no doubt came in from President Donald Trumps base all across the country.

Yes, she voted to protect funding for Planned Parenthood, voted to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military and has defended the environment. These high-profile votes, in a GOP caucus that is so extreme, allowed her to distinguish herself ― and allowed some in the Washington press to distinguish her ― as someone who was anything but right-wing.

But this was always simplistic. Collins voted with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House almost 90 percent of the time in the first year of the Trump administration. Her much-heralded vote against Obamacare repeal was negated by her vote for the GOP tax bill. She insisted that in backing that latter bill she got a promise from McConnell that the Senate would consider several fixes to Obamacare ― pledges that never materialized. 

Collins refused to support marriage equality as that debate heated up in Maine over the years and as LGBTQ activists came under vicious verbal assault by extremists in the GOP. She finally came out for marriage equality in 2014, two years after the state became one of the few in which marriage equality was achieved via a ballot measure. Thus, she never actually lifted a finger to help Mainers get equality.

She announced her evolution just in time for her re-election bid in 2014, having garnered the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national LGBTQ group. That backing, along with endorsements of her from abortion rights groups, helped her thwart her Democratic challenger.

Collins has since voted to confirm a constant stream of stridently anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ judges nominated to the federal courts by Trump.

That includes Kyle Duncan, confirmed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, who wrote the amicus brief for Louisiana and 14 other states to uphold same-sex marriage bans and fought to uphold transgender bathroom restrictions. It includes backing Steve Grasz for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, who received a unanimous unqualified rating from the American Bar Association. Hed called Roe v. Wade moral bankruptcy and sat on the board of a group that promotes conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors. 

Collins voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, who, like Kavanaugh, promised her and the world that he respected precedent, even calling the Obergefell marriage equality ruling absolutely settled law. Four months after joining the court Gorsuch wrote a vigorous dissent inviting states to challenge Obergefell.

Kavanaugh ― who was staff secretary in George W. Bushs White House while it promoted a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage ―  didnt even go as far as Gorsuch in his hearings, simply saying that Obergefell is law and he applies the law.

Collins party-line votes on district level and appeals court judges ― posts that are a top priority of McConnells ― havent gotten much media attention. That has only helped Collins ― and McConnell ― continue to promote the myth of her as a moderate while she votes with the GOPs right-wing on the issues that mattered most to it.

Whether she is trying to avert a 2020 primary from the right that Trump could lead against her ― he has already threatened Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) with political retribution for voting against Kavanaugh ― or she truly believed what she was saying, Collins this time couldnt keep her political machinations under the radar. The allegations against Kavanaugh ― and the outrage over him they sparked ― placed a glaring spotlight on her vote.

Nor could Collins even get cover from her good friends in the Senate ― Murkowski was joined by conservative Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota in opposing Kavanaugh, even though the latter lawmaker conceded the vote could harm her re-election bid this year. So Collins stood as the sole so-called moderate woman in the Senate to have abandoned millions of women across the country and many others who will be hurt by the courts likely lurch to the extreme right. 

In this moment, the mask of moderation has been ripped off Collins. There will be those who say that shes untouchable ― as they have said in the past ― and that Mainers who re-elected her before will do so again. Theyll tell you that shell have plenty of money from the Koch brothers and others, and she surely will.

But were in a different time, both nationally, with regard to the political energy of women and the Me Too movement, and in Maine. Already, people in Maine running a grassroots campaign have raised $3.5 million via crowdfunding to funnel to the Democratic opponent who takes on Collins in 2020. Several potential candidates have emerged in the past few days, as Democratic officials look to a deep pool of possible contenders in the state.

Polls in recent weeks found voters in Maine would be less likely to vote to re-elect Collins if she voted to confirm Kavanaugh. And in a Suffolk University poll in early August, she had only a 49 percent favorable rating, down from an impressive 67 percent in a Portland Press Herald 2016 poll. 

University of New England political science professor Brian Duff told the Press Herald last week that voting against Kavanaugh would be the more popular choice in Maine and easier for her to recover from, especially if she is able to vote for another conservative appointee later. Two years, he said, is a long time in politics and its hard to see a primary challenger emerging with any strength just because she voted no on Brett Kavanaugh.

The Human Rights Campaign and several other national LGBTQ groups slammed her for backing Kavanaugh, as did Planned Parenthood and NARAL. It seems implausible that any of these groups would risk their members outrage by backing Collins in 2020.

And what does Collins do about Trump in her re-election year? In 2016, she announced in a scathing Op-Ed that she wasnt voting for him that year, vocally distancing herself from his bigotry and recklessness as Hillary Clinton took Maine in the election. In 2020 Trump ― who tweeted accolades to Collins over the weekend ― presumably will be on the ballot with her. Will she dare endorse him ― or dare to not?

As Kavanaugh rules with the far right of the court on issue after issue, as he undoubtedly will, Collins will sink even further, having taken full ownership of this Supreme Court nomination in the end.

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