Meet With Kavanaugh? Not Until There’s a Deal on His Documents, Democrats Say

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, on Capitol Hill before meeting with Senator Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, last week. He has met with 23 Republican senators but no Democrats so far.

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are largely giving Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh the brushoff, refusing the customary “courtesy visits” until Republicans agree to turn over voluminous documents from the Supreme Court nominee’s past.

In the two weeks since President Trump nominated him to succeed the retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Judge Kavanaugh has met with 23 Republicans, and not a single Democrat. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in an interview Monday that he would not meet with Judge Kavanaugh until the top Republican and the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee reach agreement on what documents should be produced.

And those two senators, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Dianne Feinstein of California, are still far apart.

“I have told my caucus that I’m waiting, and I think most of them are following me,” Mr. Schumer said.

Most, but not all. Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in November, became the first Democrat to agree to a visit from Judge Kavanaugh when he said on Monday that he would meet with the judge next Monday.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, another vulnerable Democrat, said Monday that she intended to meet with Judge Kavanaugh as well, regardless of any agreement on records, though no meeting has yet been set.

Republicans and the White House condemned the Democrats’ stalling. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, accused Democrats of “chasing after irrelevant records,” while Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters that the stalling was “unprecedented.”

“Senator Schumer should stop these political games and meet with Judge Kavanaugh,” she said.

Democrats, many of whom have already said they oppose Judge Kavanaugh because of his inclusion on a list of judges drawn up for Mr. Trump by a conservative legal group, face an uphill battle in their effort to defeat his nomination. Their delay in courtesy visits could push back hearings and a vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation until closer to the midterm elections, which could have political implications that both parties are trying to assess.

On the one hand, having a vote close to the election could motivate conservative voters in Republican-leaning states where Democrats like Mr. Manchin and Ms. Heitkamp are playing defense, driving Republicans to the polls. At the same time, it could energize progressives whose votes Democratic senators need to win — and help in House races that are being waged in swing and suburban districts.

In particular, Mr. Schumer and his fellow Democrats are seeking emails and other records relating to Judge Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary to former President George W. Bush, a role that required him to determine which papers landed on the president’s desk — and made him privy to decision-making at the highest levels of the White House.

The Democrats are citing as precedent the confirmation of Justice Elena Kagan, who served in the Clinton White House. When Mr. Obama nominated her in 2010, the White House moved to release more than 170,000 documents related to her tenure, and Mr. Obama did not invoke “executive privilege” — the power of the president to withhold executive branch documents from Congress or the courts.

“We want the same procedure that was used for Justice Kagan,” Ms. Feinstein said Monday. “That was the Republican procedure, and for some reason there’s opposition to that now.”

But a spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said the “Kagan standard,” as Mr. Schumer and Ms. Feinstein call it, did not hold. The spokesman, Don Stewart, noted that Republicans did not refuse to meet with Ms. Kagan; Mr. McConnell met with her two days after her nomination.

The Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Mr. Grassley, said the release of the White House emails was still a matter of negotiation. He noted that Judge Kavanaugh had already begun providing records to the committee, along with answers in a lengthy questionnaire.

“I would think people that are worried about getting information would start looking at the 109 pages that we got from his questionnaire, with reference to all the cases, all of his law review articles, all of his speeches, all that sort of stuff,” Mr. Grassley said.

The questionnaire yielded at least one tidbit that Democrats are trumpeting as reason to object to Judge Kavanaugh: the judge’s past statements that the unanimous 1974 Supreme Court ruling that forced President Richard M. Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes might have been wrongly decided.

The judge’s beliefs about that case are relevant in light of the special counsel’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, or whether he obstructed justice. Democrats have expressed deep concern over Judge Kavanaugh’s expansive view of presidential powers.

“He has a view of presidential powers that is not only imperial, it is essentially out of the mainstream,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.

Judge Kavanaugh has an unusually long paper trail — by some estimates more than a million pages of records — from his career in Republican politics and public service dating back to his days working for Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel who investigated former President Bill Clinton. He also served on Mr. Bush’s legal team during the Florida recount in the disputed presidential election of 2000, before joining the Bush White House.

White House officials said Monday that they expect that senators will ultimately be provided with a large number of documents to examine from Judge Kavanaugh’s time working for Mr. Bush.

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, declined to say whether Mr. Trump would seek to exert executive privilege on some of the documents, saying that a review of the information by the Justice Department would be handled “document by document.”

But he said current White House officials expect that many of the emails and other memorandums from the judge’s past will eventually be delivered to senators to help them make their confirmation decision.

“We are going to let Grassley and Feinstein work out what they think is relevant to produce a thorough, transparent review without a taxpayer-funder fishing expedition,” Mr. Shah said.

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