The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings - What's Your Point?

This week's What's Your Point? panel, joining Greg Groogan in the discussion: Rick Walker - former Republican Congressional Candidate, Nyanza Moore -  progressive commentator and attorney, Bob Price- Associate Editor Breitbart Texas, Craig Jackson - Professor, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Bill King- businessman, columnist and former Kemah mayor, Tony-Diaz - educator and Chicano activist.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - The end of contentious confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has shifted the focus back to potential swing votes like Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

If Collins votes yes, then he is likely confirmed. She and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska probably would have to both vote "no" for Kavanaugh to be blocked.

In keeping with her deliberative approach, Collins has kept mum about how she'll vote. Still, she's sent signals that Kavanaugh cleared a hurdle by telling her that Roe v. Wade establishing abortion rights is settled law. A spokeswoman for Collins said Saturday that a recently released email from Kavanaugh - in which he disputed that all legal scholars see Roe as settled - didn't contradict what he told the senator because he wasn't expressing his personal views.

The pressure is intense.

Democrats argue that President Donald Trump picked Kavanaugh because he will vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. Liberal groups are running TV ads encouraging the senator to reject the nomination.

People from across the country have mailed about 3,000 coat hangers to her office, symbolizing back-alley abortions that took place before they became legal.

And activists have pledged to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund an opponent to Collins if she votes in favor of the president's nomination. She is up for re-election in 2020.

Collins, a centrist who fought the GOP effort to junk the Affordable Care Act, is used to being in the hot seat.

"I always wait until after the hearings are complete before making a decision, and I'll do so in this case as well," she told The Associated Press in an interview.

It's a similar story in Alaska. Murkowski, who also supports abortion rights, is reviewing Kavanaugh and won't announce her vote before his nomination goes to the Senate floor. "Basically, she's still vetting the new information that's coming out," said her spokeswoman, Hannah Ray.

Collins, for her part, is following the same process she used with GOP nominees John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, and Democratic nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

"I have voted for Justice Sotomayor, and I've also voted for Justice Alito," she said, referring to justices at the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. "I respect the fact that one of my jobs is to determine whether or not the candidate is qualified for the court, has the requisite experience, and has the judicial temperament, as well as respect for precedence," she added.

While she's never voted against a Supreme Court nominee, Collins has vowed to reject a candidate who's hostile to the Roe v. Wade ruling. She said Kavanaugh told her during their face-to-face meeting that he views the 1973 decision as established legal precedent.

But Kavanaugh said in a 2003 email while working for the administration of President George W. Bush some legal scholars may view the idea of precedent differently and that the Supreme Court "can always overrule its precedent." Kavanaugh said that the comment did not reflect his personal views, but "what legal scholars might say."

In Durham, Mindy Woerter said she traveled to Washington to meet with Collins and tell her about an abortion she had because the fetus she was carrying had a fatal anomaly.

"We need to make sure that we preserve that right in the future," she said. "A lot of people in Maine would be disappointed if she decided to vote for Kavanaugh."

Collins insists she's still deciding. She said she was surprised when many groups reacted reflexively against Kavanaugh's nomination, without due consideration.

"I was shocked when many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle took a position on the nominee before his identity was even known. That's just extraordinary," she said.

Outside observers remember when all senators took a more deliberative approach. "There's a lot to like in that kind of a process," said University of Maine professor Mark Brewer.

Collins, who's not up for re-election until 2020, voted last month to preserve funding for Planned Parenthood a day after the same organization rallied in Washington to encourage her to vote against Kavanaugh. On Thursday, the group delivered letters to her office in Bangor.

"I've learned not to expect a 'thank you,'" Collins said.


WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrats don't have the votes to block Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But that didn't stop them from putting up a rowdy, leave-nothing-on-the-table fight during four days of Senate confirmation hearings that marked a new stage in the party's resistance to President Donald Trump.

From the moment that the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman gaveled in the first session, the proceedings were tumultuous, disrupted first by Democratic senators objecting to the rules and then by protesters shouting "Sham president, sham vote" and other chants.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, an 84-year-old Iowa Republican, later said it was like nothing he had ever experienced during 15 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

The bedlam is unlikely to change any votes in the Senate. The mathematic march toward Kavanaugh's confirmation at month's end remains the same in the Senate, where Republicans hold a51-49 edge. Still, the battle may have changed the Democrats, who are being transformed by a new generation of politicians spoiling for a fight with Trump, even if it creates political challenges for some Democratic candidates in the November election.

"Sometimes you just have to make a stand," said Brian Fallon, a former top adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Senate's top Democrat, New York's Chuck Schumer. Fallon's organization, Demand Justice, is leading the opposition to Kavanaugh.

Fallon compared the decision on the court nominee to big votes of the past such as the Iraq War authorization that end up defining lawmakers' careers.

"This vote is not going to age well," Fallon said. He is holding out hope that not only will Democrats reject Kavanaugh, but that two pivotal Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, will join in to help stop the confirmation.

"Democrats should fight like hell," he said, "even if it's not going to sway Susan Collins."

Republicans have been eager to capitalize on the political "circus," as they called the hearing, particularly as potential 2020 presidential hopefuls Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey took turns aggressively questioning Kavanaugh in what many saw as a prelude to presidential primary campaigns.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., portrayed the Democratic Party as dominated by "unhinged" protesters and aligned with liberals calling to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, bemoaned the "mob rule" at the hearings.

Trump took on his potential 2020 rivals directly. During campaign stops for GOP candidates challenging Senate Democrats this fall in Montana and North Dakota, states where Trump remains popular, he ridiculed Democrats as "making fools out of themselves."

"The way they're screaming and shouting, it's a disgrace to our country actually," Trump said Friday during a fundraiser in Fargo, North Dakota, for the GOP opponent to Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. "I'll be running against them and I look so forward to it."

With the midterms less than two months away, Kavanaugh's nomination carries political risks for both parties as they potentially alienate the large swath of independent voters who have big say in elections.

"Independents are looking for things to work," said David Winston, a Republican pollster. But he said the showy, disruptive display at the Kavanaugh hearing "reinforces their concerns of people not focusing on the challenges the country faces."

Democratic senators running for re-election in states where Trump is popular have the most to lose from the party's Supreme Court fight.

Sens. Joe Donnelly in Indiana or Claire McCaskill in Missouri may benefit from a court battle that energizes the Democratic base. They need heavy voter turnout in metro Indianapolis and Kansas City, Democratic strongholds, if they have any hope of carrying otherwise red states that Trump won in 2016.

Yet the court fight might be unhelpful as some Democrats, including Heitkamp in North Dakota and Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, try to appeal to the moderate Republicans and independents they need to win over.

"It's probably the last thing that Democrats running for re-election in red states want to be talking about," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former top aide to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Before the hearings began, Schumer gathered Democrats for a weekend conference call to plot strategy. They debated options, Schumer said, but decided on a strategy of staying in the room for questions, protest and disruption.

At a time when Democrats are churning as a party, they're also awakening to the political potency of judicial nominees, a longtime GOP priority.

Gone are the niceties and overtures of an earlier era, when senators deferred to a president's prerogative to put in place a qualified nominee of the commander in chief's choosing.

Trump is a different kind of president, they say, and the Senate a changed institution after President Barack Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, was denied a hearing or vote.

Schumer, on Friday, seemed pleased with the result of the hard-edged approach. He said in a statement that Democrats "were able to shine a bright light - for the American people and Republican Senators to see - on Judge Kavanaugh's troubling views on women's rights, presidential power, and protections for people with pre-existing conditions."

"This was a good week."

WASHINGTON (AP) - The less said, the better. That's the mantra of any nominee before the Senate, especially when the White House and Senate are in the same party's hands. The aim, after all, is to win confirmation, and in these partisan times, an ill-chosen phrase can be damaging to a nominee's prospects.

Like high court nominees before him, Judge Brett Kavanaugh stuck to the script and said only as much as he thought he had to over two days of testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Still, Kavanaugh revealed a few things about himself, professionally and personally.

Here are a few things we learned about President Donald Trump's choice for the high court:



Kavanaugh said repeatedly that he is aware of the consequences of his decisions, including in his dissenting opinion that would have struck down Washington, D.C.'s ban on semi-automatic assault weapons. "And I want to reassure everyone that I base my decisions on the law, but I do so with an awareness of the facts and an awareness of the real world consequences," Kavanaugh said in one formulation. He noted that he grew up in the Washington area when there was a lot of gang and gun violence. Some Democratic senators weren't reassured, pointing to mass school shootings committed with semi-automatic rifles. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Kavanaugh's view on what gun control is permissible "is out of touch with reality."



Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, posed a real-world question when he asked Kavanaugh to weigh in about Trump's recent tweet that criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department for indicting two Republican congressman ahead of the midterm elections and "putting two easy wins in doubt." Kavanaugh would not not bite on that or any question dealing with Trump's attacks on prosecutors or federal judges. "I don't think we want judges commenting on the latest political controversy," Kavanaugh said.



Opponents of Kavanaugh's nomination pounced on his use of certain terms in the context of abortion and affirmative action to assert that he was sending a signal to conservatives that he is on their side, despite his measured rhetoric. Explaining his opinion in a case involving religiously affiliated groups that object to paying for contraception under the Affordable Care Act, Kavanaugh referred to "abortion-inducing drugs," a term often used by abortion opponents to describe some contraceptives. Kavanaugh supporters say he was just repeating language used by the groups that filed the lawsuit, though his 2015 opinion did not use those words.



William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy may be Kavanaugh's judicial heroes, but the nominee invoked Justice Elena Kagan, a nominee of President Barack Obama, more than any of them at the hearing. Kagan's name escaped Kavanaugh's lips more than 40 times over two days, most often to provide cover for his refusal to weigh in on issues that could come before the court. "As Justice Kagan put it, you can't as a nominee in this seat give a thumbs up or thumbs down. That was -- that's her word," he said in declining to say whether Kennedy's 2015 opinion extending same-sex marriage nationwide was correct. He answered similarly when asked about abortion and "just the whole body of modern Supreme Court case law." Kagan, incidentally, was the dean at Harvard Law School who hired Kavanaugh to teach there.



Kavanaugh had kind words for his appellate court colleague and chief judge, Merrick Garland, whose nomination by Obama Senate was essentially ignored by Republicans in 2016. The gamble by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell paid off when Trump won election and put Justice Neil Gorsuch in the seat that Justice Antonin Scalia held until his death.

Against that backdrop, it was somewhat surprising when some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee talked about how often Kavanaugh and Garland have voted together on the federal appeals court in Washington. "What I found that was striking is that in the 12 years you've been on the D.C. Circuit, of all the matters that you and Chief Judge Garland have voted on together, that you voted together 93 percent of the time," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Less than two weeks before the 2016 election, Cruz suggested the Senate's refusal to act on Garland's nomination might continue even if Hillary Clinton ultimately won election.

Kavanaugh called Garland "a great judge - a great chief judge, and he's very careful, and very hardworking, and we work well together."



Football, baseball, basketball, hockey and lacrosse all got mentions from the sports-crazed Kavanaugh, who even identified the seats he and his father had at professional football games in Washington. On his final day of testimony Thursday, Kavanaugh's two daughters were among roughly 20 girls in Catholic school uniforms - players on basketball teams he has coached - who marched into the hearing room and took up seats behind Kavanaugh to make for an irresistible, if contrived, photo op.

But the sports references didn't stop there. He called the Supreme Court a "team of nine committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States." That image stood in contrast to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' more stinging description of the court as "nine scorpions in a bottle."



One of the few times Kavanaugh seemed thrown, even momentarily, was when Harris, the California Democrat, found a new way to ask Kavanaugh about abortion.

"Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?" she asked.

Kavanaugh said: "I'm happy to answer a more specific question. But..."

After a bit more back and forth, she repeated the question. Kavanaugh answered, "I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm not thinking of any right now, senator."