Senate Democrats mounted a last, ferocious attempt Thursday to paint Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a foe of abortion rights and a likely defender of President Donald Trump if he makes it to the high court. But their chances of blocking Trump’s nominee seemed to fade away by the end of a second marathon day of testimony in his confirmation hearing.
Questioning of the 53-year-old appellate judge wound down without him revealing much about his judicial stances or making any serious mistakes that might jeopardize his confirmation. In what almost seemed like a celebration, Kavanaugh’s two daughters returned to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room for the final hours of testimony, accompanied by teammates on Catholic school basketball teams their father has coached.
The hearing pivoted during the day to Roe v. Wade, the high court’s landmark abortion case. The Democrats’ best hope of stopping Kavanaugh—who could swing the court further the right for decades—would be branding him as a justice who might vote to overturn the ruling, attracting the votes of two Republican senators who support abortion rights.
A newly disclosed email suggested he once indicated the abortion case was not settled law, though Kavanaugh denied in the hearing that he had been expressing his personal views on the issue.
The tone in the email from 2003 contrasted with his responses to questions Wednesday when he stressed how difficult it is to overturn precedents like Roe. In the email, Kavanaugh was reviewing a potential op-ed article in support of two judicial nominees while he was working at the George W. Bush White House. The document had been held by the committee as confidential but was made public Thursday.
“I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” Kavanaugh wrote, referring to justices at the time, in an email to a Republican Senate aide. The document was partially redacted.
Asked about it by the committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, Kavanaugh reiterated his previous testimony that “Roe v. Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court.”
Democrats also hammered at Kavanaugh’s ability to separate himself from Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Throughout his testimony, Kavanaugh has repeatedly insisted he fully embraces the importance of judicial independence.
Campaigning in Montana on Thursday night, Trump said Kavanaugh deserves bipartisan support and criticized the “anger and the meanness on the other side— it’s sick.”
In the hearing room, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois put the focus on Trump, who Durbin said, “has shown contempt for the federal judiciary and has shown disrespect for the rule of law over and over again.”
“It’s in the context of the Trump presidency that we ask you these questions,” Durbin said.
Kavanaugh refused to answer questions about Trump or commit to stepping aside from any case about the Russia investigation that might come to the Supreme Court. When Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut invited him to denounce Trump’s criticism of federal judges, the nominee demurred.
“The way we stand up is by deciding cases and controversies independently without fear or favor,” Kavanaugh said.
Earlier, he said his 12-year record as an appellate judge shows he has not been afraid to invalidate executive branch actions. Kavanaugh said that he has made clear that a court order “that requires a president to do something or prohibits a president from doing something ... is the final word in our system.”
Late Wednesday evening, Kavanaugh seemed to stumble at first when questioned by Democrat Kamala Harris of California about whom he might have spoken with at a law firm concerning the investigation into Russian election meddling. The firm in question was founded by Marc Kasowitz, who has represented Trump.
Kavanaugh eventually said he couldn’t think of any such conversations but would need to see a list of the firm’s lawyers. In questioning Thursday, he said more directly that he had no such conversations.
On a separate track, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Durbin have led the charge in suggesting that Kavanaugh misled them in earlier testimony, an allegation the nominee firmly denied with the enthusiastic backing of Senate Republicans.
Much of the debate among senators has focused more on the disclosure of documents than on Kavanaugh’s record.
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, along with Harris—both potential presidential candidates in 2020—said he was willing to risk fallout over releasing confidential documents about Kavanaugh’s views on race. Republican John Cornyn of Texas warned him that senators could be expelled for violating confidentially rules. Democrats and Booker responded, “Bring it on.”
In fact, some of the documents the Democrats wanted disclosed had been released hours earlier, in a pre-dawn disclosure approved by Bill Burck, the GOP attorney who serves as presidential records lawyer for Bush.
“We were surprised to learn about Senator Booker’s histrionics this morning because we had already told him he could use the documents publicly,” Burck said by email. Booker had sought release late Wednesday, after questioning Kavanaugh on race and drawing rebuke from his colleagues for disclosing the confidential documents. They were made available after 3 a.m. Thursday.
The document battle stemmed from Kavanaugh’s unusually long paper trail following his years in the Bush White House. The panel’s process resulted in hundreds of thousands of pages of Kavanaugh’s documents being withheld as confidential or kept from release under presidential privilege by the Trump White House.
Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who released more documents Thursday, stood by his handling of the issue.
“My process was fair,” Grassley declared.
Protesters have repeatedly tried to interrupt the hearing, which has carried strong political overtones ahead of the November congressional elections.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the protesters’ “unhinged antics” as powerless to stop Trump’s choice. “There’s no hecklers’ veto,” he said.
Republicans hope to confirm Kavanaugh in time for the first day of the new Supreme Court term, Oct. 1.
The rain might have stopped falling, but the floodwaters haven’t stopped rising.
The Rock River is projected to continue climbing for the next several days. Local officials are not sounding the alarm, but they are taking early precautions and warning folks to be cautious.
Wednesday storms dropped about an inch more rain than originally forecast. That usually doesn’t make a difference, but with the soil so saturated from recent rain, the ground could not absorb the water, local National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Miller said.
The Lake Koshkonong gauge measured a water level of 10.7 feet Thursday afternoon, slightly more than the 10-foot flood stage mark. The gauge could approach 12 feet by Monday, indicating widespread flooding of lakeside homes and roads, according to the National Weather Service.
South of Janesville, the Afton gauge was pushing 11 feet, nearly 2 feet above flood stage. Projections show the river rising another foot by Monday, which could surround at least two homes and shut down roads in the Afton area. It would also flood Traxler Park.
Janesville Operations Director John Whitcomb said he did not expect massive problems as long as water levels stopped shy of 12 feet. Historically, 11.5 feet has breached the river wall near Firehouse Park in downtown.
But with the Monterey Dam removed earlier this summer, flooding downtown might be less severe. Whitcomb said he is curious to see if city data from recent floods will hold up now that the dam is gone.
Rock County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Troy Knudson said the county on Thursday had no roads closed for flooding. For now, the emergency management department is monitoring flood projections and offering sandbags to those who need them.
The county has three sandbag pickup locations:
Town of Rock Clerk Deb Bennett wrote in an email to The Gazette that a Scout group from Beloit filled a pile of sandbags at the town hall. Otherwise, residents must fill their own bags.
Janesville and Beloit also are offering sandbags. Janesville bag pickup is by appointment only; residents should call 608-755-3110. Beloit bags are available from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the public works building, 2351 Springbrook Court.
All officials stressed that people should not try to drive through standing water on roads.
“Even if the water appears relatively shallow,” Knudson said. “You don’t always know if the road beneath the water has been washed out.”
Janesville has seen more than 8 inches of rain in the past three weeks, and that means mosquitoes.
Experts say mosquitoes lay eggs in places where water collects. Even water trapped in the folds of that tarp on the woodpile is enough.
And those eggs can hatch within a day—sometimes within hours, said Susan Paskewitz, professor of entomology at UW-Madison.
Meanwhile, rising floodwaters can activate mosquito eggs that have lain dormant in dry soil. Some species’ eggs can lay dormant for years.
Paskewitz said mosquitoes are rife this week where she lives in Madison. Residents in the Janesville area have reported the pests, too.
Hordes of mosquitoes are rare this time of year, when some breeds are already getting ready for winter. But the rains have changed that, Paskewitz said.
In addition to being obnoxious biters, mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus, which can kill, Paskewitz noted.
The state has documented only two West Nile cases this year. An unusually large number of cases, about 50, was reported last year.
But the kind of mosquito that carries West Nile is in decline this time of year, and most of the current biters are what Paskewitz called “nuisance species.”
It takes up to two weeks before the hatchlings become adult mosquitoes and start to bite, Paskewitz said.
Paskewitz recommends using repellent. She uses netting round her face when the biters are thick.
Try to avoid brushing against shrubs in the backyard during the day, she added. That’s where mosquitoes hang out, and disturbing them makes them take flight.
The Mayo Clinic website describes the biting process (this is not for the squeamish): “Mosquitoes use their mouthparts to puncture your skin and feed on your blood. The bump usually clears up on its own in a few days.
“Occasionally, a mosquito bite causes a large area of swelling, soreness and redness. This type of reaction, most common in children, is sometimes referred to as skeeter syndrome.”
Children and adults who have never been exposed to a particular kind of mosquito can develop hives, a large reddish area and swollen lymph nodes, the website continues.
If even more severe symptoms develop, such as fever, headache, body aches and signs of infection, see your doctor, the website advises.
Haters of these biters can take comfort in one fact. Paskewitz said some of today’s mosquitoes will lay their eggs in floodwaters that will recede before the eggs hatch, so they’ll remain dormant until those areas are inundated again, which could be years from now.
Anna E. Brechters
Marvin J. Herbert
Richard G. Olin
Sharon K. Whitford
Sandra Mae Wilkerson
The midterm election, now slightly more than eight weeks away, is shaping up as a seismic collision between two powerful and competing forces: a rip-roaring national economy and a deeply polarizing and unpopular president.
At stake Nov. 6 is not just control of Congress but the fate of President Donald Trump as he faces a special counsel investigation and a series of scandals that Democrats, given the power on Capitol Hill, would eagerly exploit.
Polling and turnout in a raft of primaries and other elections suggest Democrats are highly motivated—more so than Republicans—and the party seems poised to gain strength in Washington and in capitals across the country.
GOP hopes of forestalling a November debacle rest mainly on the strength of these boom times.
Economic growth has hit the fastest clip in nearly four years. Consumer spending is brisk. Unemployment is near an 18-year low, and average hourly wages are climbing—2.7 percent in July, compared with a year ago.
“History tells you there should be a big blue wave,” said Scott Reed, a political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but he sees prosperity acting as a breakwater. “People feel good.”
The chamber and other GOP allies are spending millions of dollars in hopes of translating those upbeat sentiments into Republican votes.
If a wave is coming, California will probably feel it for the first time in decades. Indeed, the state that beats at the heart of the Trump resistance is central to Democratic hopes of seizing control of the House.
There are six Republican-held districts in addition to Knight’s—threading through Southern California and the Central Valley—that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried. Half a dozen appear to be in play, owing not just to anti-Trump attitudes but political lines drawn to enhance competition (voters saw to that in 2010 by creating an independent redistricting commission).
Winning just a few of those contests would go a considerable way toward giving the party the 23 seats needed for a House takeover; Republicans are counting on a ballot measure repealing a state gas tax hike to boost GOP turnout and cut its California losses.
The Senate presents a different picture. Democrats face a much steeper path to take control, even though the party needs just a two-seat gain.
Democrats must defend 25 seats, compared with nine for Republicans, and several of those are in states—Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia included—that Trump carried by double-digits. Only two Republican-held seats, in Arizona and Nevada, appear to be as competitive.
The contest for control of the House is being fought hardest in the ethnically and socially diverse suburbs of Orange and San Diego counties, as well as suburban Houston and Dallas; Denver and Washington, D.C.; and other more moderate enclaves where the large ranks of college-educated women have stood at the fore of the anti-Trump movement.
The result could be a loss of GOP House seats—but continued control—and a gain of seats in the Senate, which would be relief for Republicans given the headwinds the party faces.
There are also 36 gubernatorial races across the country, including major states such as Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The results will reverberate well beyond state capitals, shaping the fight for control of Congress deep into the next decade, as the governor in many states will have final say over the political lines drawn after the 2020 census.
No two elections are alike, but history this November runs strongly in Democrats’ favor.
“Midterm elections are often an opportunity for voters who are unhappy, dissatisfied, disappointed with the president to send that signal,” said Stuart Rothenberg, who has spent decades in Washington as a nonpartisan election handicapper.
The worse a president’s standing, the harsher the referendum.
Since 1946, the party holding the White House has lost an average of more than 40 seats when a president’s approval rating sinks below 50 percent in polls. That’s a flashing danger sign for Republicans: Trump’s approval has hovered in the low 40 percent range throughout the year.
In a separate measure, the Democratic Party holds an 8-point lead in the so-called “generic ballot”—a gauge of which party voters would prefer to see controlling Congress—according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll taken this summer.
Democrats have established a huge lead among white, college-educated women, 68 percent to 28 percent, the survey suggests, and also lead among college-educated white men, 53 percent to 43 percent. They hold a significant advantage among Latinos, 56 percent to 37 percent, and an overwhelming 93 percent-2 percent edge among black voters.
Republicans have maintained a strong hold on whites without a college degree—the biggest chunk of the electorate in much of the country—and also enjoy a strong lead among residents of rural areas, matching the Democratic advantage in cities.