Senior Democrats are moving quickly to snuff out calls to impeach Brett Kavanaugh, arguing those tactics are unrealistic and politically harmful.
Democrats are already wrestling with whether to try to oust President Donald Trump, and leadership sees little room for the party to take on a second divisive impeachment saga barely a year before the presidential election. So the demands by 2020 presidential contenders to remove the Supreme Court justice, on the heels of new reporting about allegations of sexual misconduct, are getting panned.
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“Get real,” as Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) put it Monday afternoon.
“We’ve got to get beyond this ‘impeachment is the answer to every problem.’ It’s not realistic,” Durbin said. “If that’s how we are identified in Congress, as the impeachment Congress, we run the risk that people will feel we’re ignoring the issues that mean a lot to them as families.”
Except for Kavanaugh’s lone Democratic supporter, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Democratic lawmakers were livid about reports that the FBI did not thoroughly investigate two allegations against Kavanaugh. Many called for new probes into the Department of Justice, some demanded the FBI take up the matter and others hoped the House Judiciary Committee would begin some sort of investigation.
But the debate over impeachment may quickly come to a head.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said she will file an impeachment resolution on Tuesday, arguing that “Kavanaugh’s confirmation process set a dangerous precedent. We must demand justice for survivors and hold Kavanaugh accountable for his actions.”
The two-page resolution calls on the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether Kavanaugh should be impeached, according to a draft obtained by POLITICO. The resolution grants the committee subpoena power in any impeachment inquiry of Kavanaugh.
It’s going to land like a thud in the Capitol’s leadership suites and with much of the party.
“Mitch McConnell would block any impeachment. So that’s a moot point,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former Judiciary chairman. He said the lesson to be learned is not to rush lifetime confirmations: “Don’t ever let those mistakes happen again.” Until Democrats take back the Senate, however, there’s little they can do to halt McConnell on nominations.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler similarly dismissed the idea of an impeachment inquiry, arguing in a radio interview Monday that the committee is “concentrating our resources on determining whether to impeach the president.” The New York Democrat said it’s one thing for progressives to call for impeachment but for him “it’s a consequential action, which we have to be able to justify.”
Those remarks amounted to a blow to presidential candidates, prominent liberal lawmakers and progressive activists who called for Congress to take steps to remove Kavanaugh. Among those pushing for impeachment or at least an inquiry included 2020 aspirants like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris as well as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
“I’m pretty sure Jerry Nadler cares if somebody, particularly somebody is getting a lifetime appointment, whether that person lied to Congress,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who supports an impeachment inquiry. “I hope he’ll change his mind.”
The top two Democratic leaders in Congress haven’t touched the topic publicly and Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden stopped short of endorsing an impeachment inquiry. Several senior House aides said Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have not discussed the recently disclosed Kavanaugh accusation — and what, if any, action the chamber should take.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Monday he would address the matter later: “That’s all I’m saying. Which is nothing. I’m saying nothing on Kavanaugh.”
Many Democrats are not eager to wade into a battle that energizes conservatives, who quickly dismissed Democrats’ impeachment calls. Though the effort to oust Kavanaugh is popular on the left and quickly became a litmus test in the presidential primary, Republicans indicated they relish the return of an issue they believe helped them keep the Senate in 2018.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is potentially vulnerable in his reelection bid next year, said “the left’s most recent effort to destroy his life and impeach him will fail.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee did fundraising off the early calls to get rid of Kavanaugh, urging donors: “Don’t let Democrats and the liberal media smear Justice Kavanaugh.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chaired the Judiciary Committee during Kavanaugh’s confirmation, gave fiery speeches pushing back against the latest allegations. McConnell called them “flimsy.”
Grassley told reporters his committee received only a letter telling them to talk to Max Stier, who The New York Times reported had witnessed Kavanaugh commit sexual assault at Yale. But Grassley said the letter contained no such allegation.
“You impeach people for treason, high crimes and misdemeanors. What has he committed?” Grassley said. “There were no allegations in this letter, so I’m not sure what the FBI was supposed to investigate.”
There were always indications the Democratic Party would return to Kavanaugh. Nadler told The New York Times just before Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote in October that he planned to thoroughly investigate the allegations, including subpoenaing White House and FBI records and interviewing the accusers. Kavanaugh’s opponents hoped the Democratic House would quickly move on the matter.
But since regaining control of the House in January, Democrats have done little to revisit the issue. Nadler petitioned the National Archives last month to release a large cache of records from Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush administration, House Democrats’ most significant step to date.
Nadler said the committee plans to press FBI Director Christopher Wray on the bureau’s investigation into the allegations during a previously scheduled hearing next month. Last year Nadler called the FBI’s investigation into the accusations a “whitewash” but the New York Democrat made clear on Monday that impeaching Kavanaugh is not his top priority.
That’s just fine with Senate leaders, who see little upside to impeachment.
“I understand their frustration. I was in the front row of the frustration crowd. They didn’t produce the documents and the FBI didn’t follow up on the investigation,” Durbin said. “We’re now getting pushed into the impeachment corner by the Republicans every chance they get.”