The 7 Senators to Watch at the Brett Kavanaugh Hearings

The 7 Senators to Watch at the Brett Kavanaugh Hearings

The confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is set to begin Sept. 4.

SourceZach Gibson/Getty

Why you should care

From rising wannabe presidents to a Southern wild card, there will be theatrics galore.

Want in on a little secret that everyone in Washington knows? Brett Kavanaugh is going to be the next associate justice on the Supreme Court. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t toss some popcorn in the microwave and get ready for some televised drama this week, because SCOTUS sells in Washington and all sides are lining up to rev up their respective bases with some fireworks. Well, maybe sparklers.

The Judiciary Committee, which begins hearings Tuesday on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court, is stuffed with extreme ideologues, which in Senate-speak means presidential aspirants.

The 2020 Crowd

The Republicans have the has-beens. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), having licked their 2016 wounds, will carry President Donald Trump’s water — or his Diet Coke. But keep your eyes peeled for the new maverick from Arizona, Jeff Flake, who is exiting the Senate after this term and has nothing to lose. He is a conservative’s conservative, so he loves Kavanaugh, but keep your ears peeled for questions about the nominee’s past statements about protecting presidents from prosecution — as Flake toys with the idea of a 2020 primary challenge or third-party run against Trump.

The real presidential jockeying promises to be on the Democratic side, where two top 2020 White House contenders will be sitting side by side at the far end of the dais, patiently waiting to lob some intellectual bombs. Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey) turned heads when he testified against Jeff Sessions in his attorney general confirmation hearings, earning Booker the dubious title of First Sitting Senator to Testify Against a Fellow Senator.

If there’s too many questions, just think about putting in long hours!

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa

Still, Booker has no regrets. “I’m very proud of that, and I think that was a similar moral moment,” Booker says. Comity be damned! And this time he’s even hired more staff so he can ask only the best questions.

Next to Booker is Sen. Kamala Harris — a progressive from California who hasn’t been in Washington long enough to have all of her hopes and dreams dashed. She’s still holding out hope that Kavanaugh will be defeated, which is why she believes her questions can change the world and dislodge Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee. “Helping them see the connection between their daily lives and the potential decisions that will be made by this fella,” Harris told reporters at the Capitol of her game plan. We’ll see what the fella has to say about that.

The Old Bulls

As for what questions California’s senior senator plans to ask the nominee? “You’ll see when we ask them,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein says. Profound. As the top Democrat on the committee, she’s still angry at the GOP’s decision not to release more of Kavanaugh’s documents. “It’s a negative one,” the senator says of her party’s mood going into Tuesday.

Squaring off against Feinstein will be proud Iowa farmer Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the formerly vaunted committee. He says he’s got this in the bag. “It worked out pretty good with [Neil] Gorsuch,” Grassley says. And after months of withering criticisms for blocking for Kavanaugh, Grassley is prepared to exhaust his Democratic colleagues. “People will have an opportunity to ask all the questions they want, and if there’s too many questions, just think about putting in long hours!” Grassley yells at me.

The nation’s longest-serving Republican senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah, has basically given up on statesmanship and is now fully embracing this new fad called hyper-partisanship. And he’s cool with that evolution (or devolution). “Usually my questions are to rehabilitate — to help him if he needs it,” Hatch says. “The only thing wrong with him [Kavanaugh] is he’s a Republican, according to the Democrats. They just resent not having won the election.”

The Wild Card

The best entertainment is saved for last on the GOP side: Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, who has become well known for his elaborate, folksy metaphors. The first time the über-quotable Kennedy faced a Supreme Court nominee, he told Neil Gorsuch he wants “a cross between Socrates and Dirty Harry” on the bench. They don’t all feel lucky. Kennedy torpedoed the nomination of one Trump judicial nominee, Matthew Petersen, by grilling him on his lack of legal experience.

When asked if he’s been planning any special elaborate or pointed metaphors for the big hearings, Kennedy wouldn’t divulge his game plan — because he doesn’t have one. “Now, those just pop out,” Kennedy said matter-of-factly, though with a smile. “I can’t control them.”

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