Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings To Focus On 6 Hot Topics Trump's Supreme Court nominee will face tough questioning from Democrats during his confirmation hearings this week on abortion, guns, investigating the president, national security and regulation
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Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings To Focus On 6 Hot-Button Issues

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Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings To Focus On 6 Hot-Button Issues

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings To Focus On 6 Hot-Button Issues

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has begun dramatically.

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AMY KLOBUCHAR: We believe this hearing should be postponed.

CHUCK GRASSLEY: I know this is an exciting day for all of you here.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman...

GRASSLEY: And you're rightly proud of the judge.

BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, if we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn.

GRASSLEY: The American people get to hear...

BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.

GRASSLEY: ...Directly...

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: That's Charles Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of a Senate committee, trying to bring the hearing to order while Democrat after Democrat after Democrat raise objections, a last-ditch attempt to stop a confirmation that is favored to go through. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports on what's at stake.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Kavanaugh's nomination is very different from Neil Gorsuch's last year. It will have both more drama and less; more because Kavanaugh has a longer record in public life and a paper trail to match and less because the Republicans changed the Senate rules last year to allow confirmation with a simple majority vote instead of 60 votes. Still, anything can happen in a confirmation hearing. First, there is the shadow cast by President Trump's legal troubles and the very real prospect that issues posed by the Mueller investigation could end up before the Supreme Court. Senator Richard Blumenthal points to the plea agreement with President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.

BLUMENTHAL: Never before has a president named in a plea agreement as an unindicted co-conspirator appointed a justice who could well fit on his own criminal prosecution.

TOTENBERG: Although Kavanaugh was a leading author of the Clinton impeachment report presented to Congress by the special prosecutor in 1998, he has since been opposed to investigating presidents. He has suggested that the Supreme Court may have been wrong to order President Nixon to turn over to a special prosecutor incriminating tape recordings. And he's long criticized the Supreme Court's 1988 decision upholding an independent counsel law.

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BRETT KAVANAUGH: It's been effectively overruled, but I would put the final nail in.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Laughter).

TOTENBERG: Moving on, expect Kavanaugh to be asked repeatedly about the Supreme Court's 1973 abortion decision Roe versus Wade. The Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, says it won't be enough for Kavanaugh to say that Roe is an established Supreme Court precedent or even that it's settled law. She wants to know if Kavanaugh thinks the decision was correct.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: If he doesn't answer, I would certainly assume that he doesn't believe it's correctly decided.

TOTENBERG: And while Kavanaugh has ruled on only two abortion cases, there is little doubt about where he stands on the issue. Indeed, in two recent speeches about the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, he singled out their dissenting decisions in major abortion cases, speaking of them in favorable terms. There will be other lightning rod issues involving presidential power, religion, birth control, health and safety regulations, civil rights and guns. As a judge, Kavanaugh has staked out an unusually strong position in favor of gun rights. In 2011, disagreeing with his conservative colleagues, he wrote a 52-page dissent from a decision that upheld a Washington, D.C., ban on assault weapons and magazines of more than 10 rounds, plus broad registration requirements. A ban on a class of arms, he said, is equivalent to a ban on a category of speech.

Today's hearing will probably open with a partisan donnybrook over documents, some 3 million of them from Kavanaugh's six years in the Bush White House. While fewer than a third have been produced, Republicans note accurately that more Kavanaugh documents have been produced than for any other nominee. That's likely because there are more, and Democrats counter that whatever the number, it's less than 20 percent of Kavanaugh's White House documents. Adding insult to injury, late last week, President Trump - not President Bush - invoked executive privilege to prevent disclosure of 100,000 Bush documents. Again, Senator Blumenthal.

BLUMENTHAL: I'm willing to wager there's a smoking gun here. What are they concealing? What are they afraid the American people will see?

TOTENBERG: Republican Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley counters that the Democrats' document complaints are simply a red herring.

GRASSLEY: They're diverting attention from his extreme qualifications to be on the Supreme Court because they don't have anything else to pick at.

TOTENBERG: In a city that is polarized by past grievances, however, there's plenty to scrutinize about Kavanaugh's six years in the Bush White House. You can expect, for instance, that Democrat Dick Durbin will revisit Kavanaugh's testimony at his 2006 confirmation hearing for the appeals court. At that hearing, Durbin questioned Kavanaugh about his role in crafting the Bush administration's rules governing detention and interrogation of enemy combatants. Here's Kavanaugh's answer.

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KAVANAUGH: I was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.

TOTENBERG: The following year, however, after Kavanaugh had become a judge, NPR and The Washington Post published reports describing a contentious meeting that Kavanaugh attended in 2002 to discuss the detention rules. NPR reported Kavanaugh gave key advice about how a legal challenge might play in the Supreme Court, especially with the court's swing justice, Anthony Kennedy, for whom Kavanaugh had clerked. Durbin, upon reading these press reports, told NPR that he felt...

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DICK DURBIN: Perilously close to being lied to.

TOTENBERG: Durbin wrote to Kavanaugh asking about the apparent contradiction but never got a reply. Now, you can bet, he will insist on one.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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