President Donald Trump’s selection of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as his second Supreme Court nominee could be a consequential moment for the midterm elections. Republicans hope a confirmation battle will galvanize voters on the right, while Democrats are balancing their own energized liberal base against the political pressure on some red-state Democrats to side with Trump.
Here is how the elections in November could affect the nomination process — and vice versa.
The Clock Is Running
With 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and stints as a White House staff secretary, under President George W. Bush, and as an assistant to Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton, Kavanaugh has quite the résumé in government.
And that could create complications for Trump and Senate Republicans.
When Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, offered his guidance about the court pick to Trump last week, he cautioned the president that the sheer volume of Kavanaugh’s paperwork from a career in law and politics could hand Democrats the chance to stall a vote.
That could mean that Kavanaugh would not be seated by the time the next court session begins in October and, if controversial matters arise from his background, perhaps even push a vote until after the November elections. And that is not what McConnell, who because of Sen. John McCain’s, R-Ariz., absence has just 50 Senate Republicans available, would prefer.
Holding the vote before the midterms would allow McConnell to put more pressure on those red-state Democrats who are facing re-election and have little desire to incur Trump’s wrath. But should those senators be liberated from such pressure — either by winning or losing Nov. 6 — and not face a vote until after the election, the president’s leverage would be diminished.
Some Democrats have already argued that no nominee should be voted on before the midterms and that argument may grow more plausible closer to Election Day.
The Most Important Audience: Women
The success or failure of Kavanaugh’s nomination, and its political impact, are likely to hinge on two different groups of women.
First, there are the women of the Senate, including two Republicans supportive of abortion rights, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, and two red-state Democrats up for re-election this year, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. With the abortion right protections of Roe v. Wade at stake, Kavanaugh and his backers cannot afford to lose even one Republican vote if Democrats put up a wall of opposition against him.
Second, there are the women who vote in November: Female voters have swung hard toward Democrats in recent elections and polls show a potentially historic gender gap emerging in the midterm campaign. Trump and his party must avoid a confirmation process that alienates women any further.
Signaling that he recognizes this political context for his nomination, Kavanaugh repeatedly stressed his respect for women as role models and peers. In his remarks Monday evening, he cited his mother’s example as a prosecutor and judge in inspiring his own legal career, and thanked Justice Elena Kagan for having hired him during her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School. And Kavanaugh noted that most of the clerks he has hired while a judge have been women.
But Kavanaugh will face a sterner test in the coming weeks. Already, his role in a recent case involving an immigrant in the country illegally seeking to have an abortion has come under scrutiny, and Senate Democrats have indicated they will press him hard to commit to preserving Roe— a commitment Kavanaugh cannot make without alienating the right, even in the uncertain event he wanted to do so.