To keep Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh off the Court, Democrats need to solve a devilish puzzle. Nevertheless, one of the more conservative members of their caucus recently gave them reason to hope that this puzzle can be solved.
On the one hand, Democrats need to convince at least one of Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AR), both of whom are nominally pro-choice, to admit that Kavanaugh will be the fifth vote to kill Roe v. Wade. Collins and Murkowski are both likely to vote for Kavanaugh — Collins in particular appears to be in deep, deep denial that any member of the Court opposes Roe — but they are the Democrats’ best shot of picking up Republican votes in a closely divided Senate.
Meanwhile, Democrats have to hold onto the votes of several conservative members of their own caucus — senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) — who are running for reelection in red states. These senators can’t exactly go back to their voters and explain that they opposed Kavanaugh because he is a Republican partisan.
And Democrats have to do all of this while making sure Republicans do not pick up enough Senate seats this November to confirm Kavanaugh next year. It’s the political equivalent of trying to draw an inside straight while simultaneously picking up the spare on a 7-10 split.
And yet, Democrats got a hopeful sign on Wednesday that at least one of the pieces they need to stop Kavanaugh is falling into place.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is the most improbable political creature — a Democratic senator from blood-red Alabama. He often votes with conservatives like Manchin and Heitkamp. So his statements can be a useful gauge of how the Democratic Party’s right flank is thinking.
During an interview with MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Wednesday, Jones called for Senate Republicans to “push a pause button” on the Kavanaugh confirmation process and delay the nominee’s confirmation hearings, which are currently scheduled for the beginning of September. Notably, Jones said that this view is shared by “everybody else around here on the Democratic side of the aisle.”
Jones cited two reasons to delay the hearing. He initially pointed to the fact that the National Archives says it will not produce a large number of documents relating to Kavanaugh’s time as a top aide to President George W. Bush until October. When pressed by Velshi, Jones also pointed to the fact that the president who nominated Kavanuagh “is under a cloud” after Trump’s former campaign chairman and former attorney were both convicted of federal crimes this week.
Conservative Democrats, in other words, can now offer two process-based objections to Kavanaugh that allow them to oppose his confirmation without having to dive down into the nominee’s political views. And if Democrats can hold their entire Senate caucus together, the confirmation process starts to get very interesting.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, but Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is very ill and is unlikely to leave Arizona to vote on this nomination. That means that, if all 49 Democrats hold together, either Collins or Murkowski has the power to single-handedly block this confirmation.
Collins is in a particular bind. She is a senator from Maine, a blue state, and is up for reelection in 2020. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, it is very likely that the Supreme Court will either overrule Roe v. Wade outright or strip it of any real force by the time Collins faces her voters again.
Susan Collins, in other words, can either run in a blue state as the woman who saved Roe v. Wade, or she can run as the woman who killed Roe v. Wade.