Washington • Utah’s Republican senators on Monday night heralded President Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, circuit court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and pushed for a quick confirmation.
“Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding choice,” Sen. Orrin Hatch said in a statement.
Sen. Mike Lee praised Kavanaugh and said he look forward to getting to know him more but didn’t explicitly say he would support him. Trump had interviewed Lee for the opening before calling him Monday to say he wouldn’t be the pick.
“Judge Kavanaugh is a well-respected jurist who deservedly received bipartisan support when confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 2006,” Lee said in a statement. “I know him to be a smart and fair judge, one of the most admired appellate judges in the country.”
Kavanaugh was confirmed for the District of Columbia Circuit Court on a 57-36 vote with Hatch supporting him in 2006. Lee wasn’t elected until four years later.
The White House held Kavanaugh’s appointment close to the vest throughout the process. The only hint he would be the choice came when reporters spotted his parents in the East Room.
Hatch, a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who has participated in 15 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices, released a video backing Kavanaugh as Trump was still announcing the pick.
“I was honored that the president would consult me about this critical pick,” said Hatch, who, along with Lee, joined Trump at the White House for the unveiling of the nominee.
The two senators will have an outsized role in the confirmation process. Both are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and have seniority on the panel.
Hatch is the longest-serving Republican senator in office and he’s not seeking re-election, making this confirmation one of his last major votes. He said Kavanaugh has “shown a deep commitment to the separation of powers and to both the First and Second Amendment.”
“He will be a strong, principled voice on the Supreme Court,” Hatch added. “I’m so pleased to have one more opportunity to help shape the Supreme Court before I leave office.”
Hatch said in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner on Monday night, posted minutes after the Kavanaugh announcement, that he will “lift heaven and Earth to see that he is confirmed” to the post being vacated by retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.
The confirmation process is likely to be as heated as a humid Washington summer with Democrats already lining up opposition to the pick, partially fueled by the fact that Kennedy was a swing voter on the high court and Trump’s pick could turn the court to the right.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and former Judiciary Committee chairman, said after a review of Kavanaugh’s record “we are right to be concerned.” Leahy added that he was concerned that outside conservative groups helped winnow the list of possible nominees from which Trump was selecting.
“The Constitution doesn’t direct the president to nominate justices to the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation,” Leahy said. “That is the role specified by the Constitution for the United States Senate.”
Lee, a former federal prosecutor, was on Trump’s list of 25 possible candidates he said he would pick from for the Supreme Court and the president talked to him by phone last week about the vacancy. But Lee, who had led a revolt against Trump’s presidential nomination in favor of his Senate GOP buddy, Ted Cruz of Texas, didn’t catch on at the White House even as conservative movement leaders came out in full force to back Lee.
On Monday, as speculation about Trump’s choice filled the airwaves and social media, Cruz tweeted that he was told “Mike Lee has been spotted flying to Washington today.”
Another of Lee’s friends in the Senate, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who had backed Lee for the high court, didn’t immediately endorse Kavanaugh, though said on Twitter he would review his record and meet with him “with an open mind.”
Republicans, who hold 51 seats in the Senate, need a majority to confirm Kavanuagh, a razor-thin margin with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., unlikely to vote as he battles brain cancer.
Some Republicans, too, are on the fence out of concern about how Kavanaugh might rule with regard to abortion rights.
Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, said Monday night that she would “conduct a careful, thorough vetting” of Kavanaugh.
Republican leaders are hopeful that they can publicly pressure some Democrats who hail from red states — Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Montana’s Jon Tester, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, Florida’s Bill Nelson and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp — to back Kavanaugh in a tough vote.
Although the House does not have a vote in a Supreme Court confirmation, Reps. John Curtis and Mia Love, both Utah Republicans, also cheered Trump’s pick.
“One of the most lasting and consequential parts of any president’s legacy is their appointment of judges to the federal judiciary — especially to the Supreme Court,” Curtis said in a statement. “Like President Trump’s first appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated a commitment to interpreting the Constitution as it is written, rather than as he would personally like to have seen it written.”
Love said that it is “extremely important” that a conservative judge be confirmed to the court and noted she was “pleased” with Trump’s nominee.
“Judge Kavanaugh is an experienced, principled jurist with a strong record of protecting life and Constitutional rights,” Love said. “I’m looking forward to hearing more from him during the upcoming confirmation hearings.”