Shifting strategy, Democrats to begin meeting with Kavanaugh

After weeks of refusing to meet with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats in the Senate plan to begin meeting with him when they start returning to Washington in mid-August, a senior Democratic aide said Friday.

The aide said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee tasked with holding hearings for Kavanaugh, will be among those meeting with him.

Only one Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has met with Kavanaugh as lawmakers sparred over access to records from the nominee’s time as White House staff secretary under President George W. Bush.

Kavanaugh’s lengthy public record has emerged as a key battleground as senators scrutinize the 53-year-old appellate judge, a conservative whose views on gay marriage, abortion and executive power could move the court rightward for a generation.

The National Archives and Records Administration is compiling records from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House counsel’s office. But leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee are at odds over what records should be turned over from Kavanaugh’s time as Bush's staff secretary.

A senior Democratic aide said the senators will demand the records in dispute from Kavanaugh directly and question him about their contents during their meetings with him.

The aide said Democrats also intend to demand that Kavanaugh call for and support the release of all of his files from his time in the White House and urge the National Archives and former President Bush to adhere to the same standard used in Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s confirmation. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely on strategy.

Republicans have fought the release of all the Bush-era staff secretary documents, saying there are plenty of other files on his record. Already the committee is poised to release more than 125,000 pages from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House counsel’s office during the Bush years, and on Friday it requested another 20,000 from his time on the Kenneth Starr team investigating President Bill Clinton. Earlier, some 17,000 pages were released from his questionnaire as well as more from his 300-plus cases as an appellate judge.

The White House greeted the news that Senate Democrats would begin meeting with Kavanaugh by saying its requests for meetings between Kavanaugh and Schumer and Feinstein have remained unanswered for more than three weeks.

“While we look forward to potential meetings, both of these Democratic senators and many of their colleagues have publicly opposed Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination while continuing to disingenuously demand millions of pages of documents from former President Bush that are irrelevant to evaluating the judge’s judicial thinking,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah.

Meanwhile, David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, told Schumer the National Archives cannot provide Democrats with non-public records covering Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary. He said such a request must come from the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, or the committee itself. He said in a letter to Schumer dated Thursday that the practice is based on a 2001 Justice Department legal opinion.

Ferriero said the National Archives declined to process similar requests from the lead Republicans on the Judiciary Committee in connection with the nominations of Attorney General Eric Holder and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during the administration of President Barack Obama.

The National Archives holds millions of pages of records related to Kavanaugh, significantly more than for prior Supreme Court nominees who worked in the White House.

Republicans have been pressuring Democratic senators up for re-election this year to meet with Kavanaugh, particularly in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016. The office of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., confirmed Friday that she has a meeting scheduled with Kavanaugh on Aug. 21. Trump won Missouri in 2016.

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