On Tuesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings for President Trump's second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Democrats, who are demanding access to more of Kavanaugh's three million documents from his time working in George W. Bush's White House, are expected to press Kavanaugh for his views on abortion rights, gun laws, campaign finance restrictions, and regulations, all issues on which Kavanaugh's public record indicates he holds conservative or very conservative opinions. But with President Trump heading for a showdown with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, "executive power will be the elephant in the hearing room," says Justin Wedeking at The Washington Post.
Supreme Court nominees have been increasingly reticent to answer questions about their views on topics, and senators have become much more aggressive in their questioning, since the Senate decided to start televising confirmation hearings with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981, Wedeking says. And since in 2017, before Justice Neil Gorsuch's confirmation vote but after his hearings, "Senate Republicans changed the chamber's rules so that the minority party could not filibuster to block a vote on Supreme Court nominees," Kavanaugh may "feel he can be less forthcoming that earlier nominees" because he only needs 51 votes in the GOP-controlled chamber.
Democrats have seen only about 20 percent of Kavanaugh's Bush White House records, and President Trump, claiming broad privilege, has blocked the release of more than 100,000 documents approved for release by the Bush White House lawyer vetting the papers. Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) accused Democrats of pursuing a fishing expedition, but Trump's claim of executive privilege on documents from when Kavanaugh was Bush's staff secretary has Democrats curious. "I'm willing to wager there's a smoking gun here," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). "What are they concealing? What are they afraid the American people will see?" Peter Weber