Democrats Should Ignore Mitch McConnell’s Ultimatum on Kavanaugh

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Democrats are in the midst of negotiating with Republicans over the amount of paper records that should be made available ahead of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. The two sides are not particularly close. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley says that Democrats “ought to have any records that are relevant to [Kavanaugh’s] appointment to the Supreme Court.” Democrats essentially believe that they should have any records that Kavanaugh has ever touched. Since Kavanaugh managed the paper flow within the George W. Bush administration, that could mean a lot of documents.

And so Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sensing a dilatory fishing expedition, has issued an “ultimatum,” Politico reports.

“If Democrats keep pushing for access to upwards of a million pages in records from President Donald Trump’s high court pick,” Politico writes, “he’s prepared to let Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote slip until just before November’s midterm elections.”

The theoretical threat to Democrats would be two-fold. First, a confirmation process concluding in late October or early November could prevent the many Democratic senators up for reelection from campaigning back home. (Congress usually takes most of October off during election years.) Second, a loss on Kavanaugh’s nomination, just before the election, could deflate Democratic voters.

Both of these theories are questionable, and Senate Democrats aren’t taking them all that seriously.

The argument that Senate Democrats in difficult reelection races would be stuck in D.C. isn’t necessarily true. A brief scan of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee shows that zero of its members have competitive races this fall. And if McConnell fills the calendar with additional votes, the members who need to be campaigning seven days a week can just skip them.

There is a chance that Democratic voters could be deflated if Kavanaugh’s confirmation goes through at the last minute. Or, Democratic voters could be pissed off at Republicans for shifting the Supreme Court to the right and would be more energized. Likewise, Republican voters could be more enthusiastic about turning out if the party confirms Kavanaugh at the last minute. Or, they could consider all of the important stuff done and stay home. It might be a wash.

The biggest thing Democrats could do to deflate their base would be not to fight tooth and nail against this nomination, including by requesting maximal records. The defeat of Ryan Bounds’ nomination to an appellate court on Thursday has energized Democrats, and their desire to secure as much paper as possible, in the fight against Kavanaugh. What if, within the million pages they’re seeking, they find some toxic stuff there, too?

Gaming out the minutiae here isn’t really necessary. When Mitch McConnell tells you to lay off the thing he wants the most because it’s bad politics for you, ignore him.