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Key GOP senators side with party as Democrats seek documents about Trump's Supreme Court nominee

Key GOP senators side with party as Democrats seek documents about Trump's Supreme Court nominee
From left, GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska head to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office after meeting with other Senate moderates. (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

Republican senators expected to hold key votes on President Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court are showing subtle signs of support for the effort to put Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the bench.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine said Tuesday that they were satisfied with the GOP plan to limit the scope of documents to be released regarding Kavanaugh’s record, despite Democrats’ call for a fuller review of the candidate’s work in Washington, particularly his years as staff secretary in the George W. Bush White House.

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Murkowski and Collins indicated they were keeping an open mind on the nominee as they reviewed his record. They told the Washington Post recently that they weren’t getting the same level of pressure from constituents to vote against Kavanaugh as they did to vote no on the Republican-led effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year. Their “no” votes helped kill those repeal plans.

With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) receiving cancer treatment at home, Republicans can’t afford to lose a single vote of their 50-49 majority if Democrats stay united and vote against Kavanaugh.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had initially expressed concerns about Kavanaugh, announced his support for the nominee after meeting with him Monday.

At the same time, cracks are showing in Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s effort to keep Democrats united against Kavanaugh. Democratic leaders have been urging members to refrain from meeting with Kavanaugh until the documents dispute is addressed.

But vulnerable Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who is facing reelection in November in a state Trump won, met with Kavanaugh on Monday. Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana is scheduled to meet with Kavanaugh in August. Both men voted to confirm Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Neil M. Gorsuch, and are under heavy pressure to support Kavanaugh.

Manchin has not said how he will vote, but after he met with Kavanaugh, the senator’s staff released photos of the two men smiling together in his office.

Kavanaugh has met with 40 of 100 senators, with six more meetings scheduled for Wednesday.

The one-on-one meetings are a traditional part of filling a court vacancy, but there is nothing stopping Republicans from moving the nomination forward if Democrats refuse to have them.

On Friday, Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa asked the National Archives only for documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House counsel’s office, saying, “I am not going to put the American taxpayers on the hook for the Senate Democrats’ fishing expedition.”

Grassley said Tuesday he had been told that senators are already getting more documents for Kavanaugh than they have for the last five Supreme Court nominees combined, and that the staff secretary documents would take months to wade through.

“We haven’t had a single Democrat say they are going to vote for him, and probably two-thirds of the Democrats say they are going to vote against him. How much more information do you need to know to vote no?” Grassley said. “What are they going to do with the information?”

Schumer dismissed that explanation, saying that senators have a constitutional responsibility to conduct a thorough review and that Republicans haven’t raised concerns about the costs of providing documents about nominees in the past, including the 170,000 pages of documents from Justice Elena Kagan’s White House service.

Schumer also scoffed at the idea that Democrats were dragging their feet.

“We’re not intending to be dilatory,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “The intent here is sunlight, not delay.”

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Democrats on the Judiciary Committee formally requested documents on Kavanaugh’s staff secretary years from the National Archives on Tuesday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that those years, 2003 to 2006, include major topics such as discussions of the CIA torture program that senators should know Kavanaugh’s position on.

“There is real value in this information,” Feinstein said. “We want to be able to look and see what his knowledge is on key issues and also what he thinks.”

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