The same week that other Democrats relentlessly grilled Judge Brett Kavanaugh and progressive activists occupied Senate offices, Sen. Claire McCaskill complimented the federal judge’s intelligence.
But in the next sentence, she listed reasons she has doubts about whether he should become a Supreme Court justice.
Progressive Democrats are getting impatient with McCaskill, as the Missouri Democrat refuses to say how she plans on voting on President Donald Trump’s nominee or even comment on his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She’s waiting until after Kavanaugh submits additional answers to the committee next week.
“There are certainly things in there that tell me that he’s a competent and qualified lawyer… Someone who is smart and understands how the law works, understands the distinctions between administrative law and understands the various branches of government and the checks and balances, so all of that is reassuring,” McCaskill told McClatchy.
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“But at the end of the day, I’ve got to make a decision based on issues that I think are really critical right now in this country and that’s where some of the information causes me pause.”
McCaskill’s reluctance to say how she’ll vote on Kavanaugh reflects the challenge she faces running for re-election in a state that went for Trump by double digits in 2016.
The president has made ousting McCaskill a priority this election cycle and Republicans have used Kavanaugh’s nomination as a hammer against McCaskill on the campaign trail.
Trump will make his fifth trip to Missouri in roughly a year when he holds a campaign rally Thursday in Cape Girardeau to boost McCaskill’s GOP opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
But McCaskill and other red state Democrats also face increasing pressure from progressive groups, who expect party members to not only vote against Kavanaugh but actively resist his confirmation.
“You should check with the progressive groups and check with (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer. It’s not my lane,” McCaskill said Thursday when asked about progressives frustrated with the party.
Heidi Heiss, co-director of CREDO Action, a national progressive group, said “There’s really no question that Kavanaugh shouldn’t get a seat on the court if you’re someone who believes in the core principles of the Democratic Party.”
CREDO was one of 13 such groups that sent a letter to Schumer this past week, faulting the Senate’s top Democrat for failing to organize total opposition to Kavanaugh
“I think that the best possible explanation is that this is just craven political calculation. Any other explanation is that these senators don’t share the values of the party that they’re a part of,” Heiss said.
Heiss argued that the only hope Democrats have of persuading GOP center-right senators to oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation is to stand united against him now.
“It’s a problem to us if Democrats like McCaskill are hedging still… We know that the only way to get (Maine Sen. Susan) Collins and (Alaska Sen. Lisa) Murkowski is to hold the 49 Democrats.”
Collins and Murkowski face pressure from abortion rights groups to reject Kavanaugh, but neither senator has definitively stated how she will vote on the judge.
During a campaign phone call, McCaskill said that her review of Kavanaugh’s documents have given her pause, noting that the judge appears to have “a very clear view of some issues that are very important” such as “the elevation of corporations to the point that an individual has very little shot against the machinery.”
McCaskill would not provide more specific details about what in Kavanaugh’s record she finds disconcerting, but her concern about corporate issues echoes her criticism of Trump’s previous nominee to the high court, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
McCaskill ultimately voted against Gorsuch after saying he “always puts the little guy under the boot of corporations.”
Rachel Sweet, the regional policy director of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, called McCaskill’s reluctance to say how she’ll vote on Kavanaugh frustrating.
“She has some concerns. We haven’t gotten a firm answer,” Sweet said.
She said Planned Parenthood would “keep the pressure up” on McCaskill, but that the organization expects her to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination based on her long record of supporting abortion rights.
“She’s been there with us,” Sweet said.
One of her fellow Missouri Democrats in Congress also is pressing hard for McCaskill to make a firm commitment.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, a St. Louis Democrat, sent a letter to both McCaskill and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt urging them to oppose the judge’s confirmation, citing a “lack of respect for precedent, especially in matters related to defending the voting rights of minorities, demanding constitutional policing, and upholding a woman’s right to control her own reproductive freedom.”
An August 25-28 Marist College-NBC News poll shows that the president’s popularity in the state has faded since the 2016 election when he won the state with 56 percent of the vote.
It found that 46 percent of likely voters disapprove of Trump’s performance compared to 45 percent that approve. The same poll showed McCaskill and Hawley deadlocked at 47 percent in the race for Senate.
Hawley, who has made Kavanaugh’s nomination the focus of his campaign, accused Sens. Kamala Harris, D-California, and Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, of engaging in obstructionist tactics and noted that McCaskill has campaigned with both.
“These are her allies and friends. It’s simple: does she stand with them?” Hawley’s campaign asked in a release.