Bipartisan Hill anger with Saudis flares after Khashoggi

A defense contractor pressing for a U.S.-Saudi weapons sale visited Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker’s office recently. And as the Tennessee Republican tells it, he gave the man a stark warning: “Look. Do not push this.”

“If it came to a vote in the Senate, it would fail," Corker recalled telling the contractor about the chance that lawmakers would halt the Saudi arms deal he was pursuing. That was before journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Middle Eastern kingdom’s government, vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Now Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged murder is pushing Capitol Hill’s long-simmering frustrations with Riyadh to a boiling point. Whether that fury manifests in a formal rejection of a U.S.-Saudi weapons sale remains to be seen. But interviews with more than a dozen senators reveal bipartisan pressure to hold the Saudis accountable — while the White Continue reading “Bipartisan Hill anger with Saudis flares after Khashoggi”

Dems agree to confirm judges in deal that puts Senate into recess

Senate Democrats accepted an offer from Senate Republicans to confirm 15 lifetime federal judges on Thursday in exchange for agreeing to go into recess through the midterms so endangered Democrats can campaign.

After senators weighed the package of three Circuit Court judges and 12 District Court judges on Thursday afternoon, they agreed to the demand from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to confirm roughly the number of judges he could confirm between now and the election if he kept the Senate in continuously. A half-dozen vulnerable Democrats and a pair of at-risk Senate Republicans are eager to go home for the election.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his caucus will likely endure some liberal criticism for accepting the deal, but Senate Democrats have privately argued it’s in the party’s best interest to allow quick confirmation of judges in order to let endangered red state Continue reading “Dems agree to confirm judges in deal that puts Senate into recess”

Volunteers bolt Bredesen over Kavanaugh support

Tennessee Democrat Phil Bredesen is facing backlash from some of the staunchest supporters of his Senate campaign after coming out in support of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Campaign volunteers have been calling to cancel door-knocking and phone-banking shifts for Bredesen since his statement backing Kavanaugh, according to an internal spreadsheet maintained by the campaign and obtained by POLITICO. At least 22 volunteers so far have reached out to express frustration with the decision, according to the spreadsheet. POLITICO spoke with five who contacted the campaign to vent their anger.

It’s a small fraction of Bredesen’s total volunteer force, which numbers in the thousands, according to his campaign. But it’s also just one slice of the frustration roiling Democrats since Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court last weekend.

“As a woman voter in Tennessee, I felt torpedoed by the statement,” said Rhonda McDowell, a campaign volunteer in Continue reading “Volunteers bolt Bredesen over Kavanaugh support”

Volunteers bolt Bredesen over Kavanaugh support

Tennessee Democrat Phil Bredesen is facing backlash from some of the staunchest supporters of his Senate campaign after coming out in support of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Campaign volunteers have been calling to cancel door-knocking and phone-banking shifts for Bredesen since his statement backing Kavanaugh, according to an internal spreadsheet maintained by the campaign and obtained by POLITICO. At least 22 volunteers so far have reached out to express frustration with the decision, according to the spreadsheet. POLITICO spoke with five who contacted the campaign to vent their anger.

It’s a small fraction of Bredesen’s total volunteer force, which numbers in the thousands, according to his campaign. But it’s also just one slice of the frustration roiling Democrats since Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court last weekend.

“As a woman voter in Tennessee, I felt torpedoed by the statement,” said Rhonda McDowell, a campaign volunteer in Continue reading “Volunteers bolt Bredesen over Kavanaugh support”

Dems face new dilemma on Trump judges: Fight or flight?

Senate Democrats are wrestling over how hard to fight another batch of GOP judicial picks — a decision that could rob their vulnerable incumbents of valuable campaigning time.

The latest judicial conundrum for Democrats comes days after the brutal Brett Kavanaugh battle ended and weeks before midterm elections as five of their members run for their political lives in states President Donald Trump carried by double digits. As Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tees up another package of judicial nominees, the minority must decide how long it wants to drag out the next clash.

By calling up the judicial nominations now, McConnell will force Democrats to swallow more confirmations before their imperiled incumbents can leave Washington to campaign.

The challenge is clear: Democrats can’t consent to too speedy a consideration of more judges because liberals, inside their caucus and outside the Beltway, are still livid about how Kavanaugh’s confirmation went. But Continue reading “Dems face new dilemma on Trump judges: Fight or flight?”

GOP closes in on Heitkamp knockout — and control of the Senate

Republicans say they’re on the cusp of delivering a knockout blow to North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp — and virtually ending Democrats’ hopes of winning the Senate.

Heitkamp is down in public polls by a significant margin, and most political handicappers think Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) is the favorite to beat her. If she goes down, Democrats would basically have to run the table in every other battleground race to take the chamber.

Republicans have had Heitkamp losing by double digits in their private polling for weeks, according to a GOP strategist working on Senate races. Democrats argue the race is closer but acknowledge she is down even in their polling, after her vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

“At this point, it’s really ours to lose,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “The race, probably to her detriment, has been nationalized around Continue reading “GOP closes in on Heitkamp knockout — and control of the Senate”

McConnell calls for investigation into leak of Ford letter

The battle over Brett Kavanaugh isn’t over: Its next chapter may be a Senate investigation into how the public first learned of Christine Blasey Ford’s July letter alleging he sexually assaulted her.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told POLITICO on Saturday that the Judiciary Committee "ought to take a look at" the initial media report of Ford’s letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), laying out her assault claim against Kavanaugh. That media report included no details of Ford’s allegation, describing its topic as "an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school."

But Republicans have seized on the public disclosure of the letter which the judge’s accuser had asked to remain confidential.

"I think It clearly was, honestly, a despicable thing to do to Dr. Ford," McConnell said. "And it kind of underscored the tactics that have been used: It started in committee and Continue reading “McConnell calls for investigation into leak of Ford letter”

Ex-Democratic staffer charged with posting senators’ private info

The U.S. Capitol Police on Wednesday arrested a 27-year-old man for posting addresses and private information of senators, according to the police department.

The department reported that it arrested Jackson A. Cosko for allegedly posting "private, identifying information (doxing) about one or more United States senators to the Internet." A man by the same name who graduated from George Washington in 2014 previously worked for Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and California’s Barbara Boxer, who has since retired. Cosko most recently worked for Hassan as a "legislative correspondent/systems administrator," according to Legistorm.

Cosko left Hassan’s office in May.

Last week, the Wikipedia pages of Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were altered to show their addresses, phone numbers and email address. The information was posted during an extraordinary hearing in which Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Continue reading “Ex-Democratic staffer charged with posting senators’ private info”

‘Not helpful’: Senators sour on Trump’s handling of Kavanaugh accuser

Sen. Joe Manchin praised President Donald Trump’s handling of the allegations facing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh over the weekend in a private telephone call, thanking the president for supporting an FBI investigation and his relative public restraint.

The West Virginia Democrat, one of five remaining undecided senators, had a different verdict on Wednesday after Trump attacked Christine Blasey Ford’s account of when Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her.

“It’s awful … very wrong,” Manchin said of Trump’s rhetoric, declining to weigh in on whether his vote has been affected. “But this stoked things up last night in the fire and it didn’t help.”

After mostly focusing his attacks on Democrats and defending Kavanaugh over the past two weeks, Trump’s about face has jolted the Senate’s undecided senators who will determine whether or not Kavanaugh will be confirmed in the coming days. Manchin and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Continue reading “‘Not helpful’: Senators sour on Trump’s handling of Kavanaugh accuser”

Trump, GOP step up attacks on Kavanaugh accuser Ford

Led by President Donald Trump, Republicans supporting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are directly attacking Christine Blasey Ford, whose sexual abuse allegations are at the heart of the scandal surrounding the high-court hopeful.

But the harsh criticism of Ford from Trump and Kavanaugh supporters could backfire, alienating the handful of undecided senators who will decide the fate of Kavanaugh’s nomination. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who sought the additional FBI investigation into Kavanaugh, said Trump’s remarks at a Tuesday rally were “kind of appalling.” Moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined Flake, saying Wednesday that Trump’s comments are "just plain wrong."

Even Kavanaugh and Trump’s closest allies weren’t happy with the remark.

“There’s a lot of time expiration in memory here. I think it would have been better left unsaid,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a strong GOP defender of Kavanaugh’s.

The shift in tactics is part of Continue reading “Trump, GOP step up attacks on Kavanaugh accuser Ford”

GOP senators use Kavanaugh to beat back primary challengers in 2020

Senate Republicans are making an aggressive play to ward off primary challenges in 2020, digging in behind embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and showing the GOP base that they are fighting on behalf of President Donald Trump’s court pick.

At least 21 Republican senators will be up for reelection in 2020 — including GOP leader Mitch McConnell — and the first step toward keeping their seats with Trump atop the ticket is avoiding a Trump-fueled primary challenge. Many of them, save for Maine moderate Susan Collins, are among Kavanaugh’s staunchest defenders against what they deem a “smear campaign” of sexual assault allegations and inspection of Kavanaugh’s drinking habits.

These senators, many of whom won for the first time in 2014, say they are merely reflecting the intensity of conservative voters who are outraged at what they view as Kavanaugh’s unfair treatment by liberal Democrats and the media. While many Continue reading “GOP senators use Kavanaugh to beat back primary challengers in 2020”

McConnell: Senate will vote on Kavanaugh this week

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that the Senate would vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination this week as he brushed aside new questions about the judge’s past drinking habits.

The Kentucky Republican is in a precarious situation on timing a final vote on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, with three undecided senators in his own party preferring to wait until after the FBI finishes an inquiry into sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh. McConnell said Tuesday that senators would vote "after the FBI shares what they’ve found," but reiterated that a floor vote would happen "this week."

McConnell also dinged Democrats for embracing the allegations of a third woman coming forward with misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh even though Democrats initially hesitated last week. That woman is a client of Michael Avenatti, the well-known attorney also representing Stormy Daniels whom the GOP leader slammed as "a tabloid lawyer."

McConnell Continue reading “McConnell: Senate will vote on Kavanaugh this week”

Ads push Manchin and Heitkamp to vote for Kavanaugh

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network is pressuring at-risk Democrats Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp to confirm Brett kavanaugh in a new ad buy, making one final push on behalf of the Supreme Court nominee.

The group will spend $400,000 this week on pushing Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to support President Donald Trump’s high court pick, following his hearing on an alleged sexual assault. The two moderate senators are the only undecided Democrats, and both are up for reelection next month. Kavanaugh remains short of 50 votes.

The new ads use footage of Kavanaugh calling the confirmation process "search and destroy" at his confirmation hearing. A narrator says voters will "never forget" how Heitkamp and Manchin vote and accuses liberals of trying to "ruin a good man with smears."

"Judge Kavanaugh fought back, clearing his name, defending his honor. Now Sen. Heitkamp has a choice: Continue reading “Ads push Manchin and Heitkamp to vote for Kavanaugh”

McConnell tweaks strategy for Kavanaugh confirmation

As the FBI rushes to finish an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is concentrating all his efforts on the "Gang of Three."

McConnell’s focus right now is entirely on the triumvirate of GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona. McConnell needs two out of the three to back Kavanaugh in order for the nomination to succeed, and he is walking a fine line in addressing their concerns while continuing to press toward a final Senate vote.

McConnell has subtly tweaked his language on the Kavanaugh nomination. He’s no longer vowing to “plow right through” and confirm Kavanaugh, as he was just last week, crafting his message instead to appeal to the three Republicans who remain on the fence.

The Kentucky Republican is currently planning a move to end debate on Continue reading “McConnell tweaks strategy for Kavanaugh confirmation”

ACLU spending more than $1M to oppose Kavanaugh

The American Civil Liberties Union is jumping into the Supreme Court ad wars, spending just over $1 million to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination this week.

The ACLU is targeting mostly Republicans in a buy spread across four states: Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. The campaign is also focusing on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The ACLU is not targeting undecided GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who joined with Murkowski and Manchin to call for an FBI probe of sexual assault allegations facing Kavanaugh.

Until recently, the group has not formally opposed Kavanaugh since his nomination and stopped its ad campaign targeting Murkowski and Collins once he was nominated. But the ACLU decided over the weekend to oppose Kavanaugh and launch an advocacy and advertising Continue reading “ACLU spending more than $1M to oppose Kavanaugh”

Kavanaugh closer to Supreme Court with Flake support

Brett Kavanaugh is one big step closer to Senate confirmation on Friday morning, with the Judiciary Committee expected to advance his Supreme Court nomination to the floor after swing-vote Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced his support.

The 53-year-old appeals court judge delivered an emotional and defiant defense amid sexual misconduct allegations on Thursday, a showing that successfully rallied many Republicans behind him. Kavanaugh’s next test comes in the Judiciary panel, though Flake’s public support all but ensures the judge will sail to the floor with a positive recommendation.

“I left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as certainty," Flake said in a statement on his support for Kavanaugh after indicating Thursday night that he was wrestling with whether to believe the judge or Christine Blasey Ford. "What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence."

Continue reading “Kavanaugh closer to Supreme Court with Flake support”

Ford set to take the stage for historic hearing

Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford are set to testify Thursday morning in the eye of a bitter partisan storm the likes of which Washington hasn’t seen in decades.

President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee and the California-based professor are slated to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing on her charge that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were in high school. But beyond the scope of that claim, their appearance promises to have sweeping political consequences for both parties, the #MeToo movement raising awareness of sexual misconduct, and the famously hidebound Senate.

Two more women have come forward since to allege sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh: Deborah Ramirez, who told the New Yorker that she believes Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when both were in college; and Julie Swetnick, a client of well-known anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti who has signed an affidavit alleging Kavanaugh’s Continue reading “Ford set to take the stage for historic hearing”

Dems ponder using filibuster to slow Kavanaugh nomination

Senate Democrats can’t stop Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, but they can try their best to slow him down with an old-fashioned filibuster.

Liberal senators are hinting that someone in their caucus may mount a theatrical talking filibuster to draw attention to what they say is a rushed process as Kavanaugh faces three separate accusations of misconduct as a teenager and young man. They aren’t explicitly divulging their plans publicly, in order to keep Senate Republicans on their feet, but they’re not ruling anything out either.

“We’re limited as to how long, but certainly I think we’ll use every tool available to show the American people what is at stake here and what the deeply and profoundly important issues are,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“You need a thorough investigation. And clearly Sen. McConnell is prepared to rush this thing through without that type of investigation. That’s Continue reading “Dems ponder using filibuster to slow Kavanaugh nomination”

Flake: Kavanaugh vote will be ‘forever steeped in doubt’

Jeff Flake is keeping everyone guessing about where he will come down on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, explicitly declaring he’s undecided on Wednesday afternoon and saying that the vote on Kavanaugh will be “forever steeped in doubt.”

Viewed as the only truly undecided senator on the Judiciary Committee scheduled to soon vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, Flake defended both the nominee and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, as “human beings” on Wednesday and sought to quell talk that Ford’s accusations are part of a conspiracy theory to bring down Kavanaugh. He also said he does not believe that Kavanaugh is a “serial sexual predator.”

But as Republicans continue to fret about how Flake will vote on Kavanaugh, the Arizona Republican isn’t giving anything away even as the panel’s 10 Democrats called for Kavanaugh to withdraw and its 10 other Republicans ready to support Kavanaugh. He said he hopes Continue reading “Flake: Kavanaugh vote will be ‘forever steeped in doubt’”

White House lashes out at Feinstein as Kavanaugh hearing draws near

With details still being hammered out for Thursday’s hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee over sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the White House launched a blistering attack on Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel.

Senate Republicans have lambasted Feinstein repeatedly for not coming forward sooner with the allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford against Kavanaugh. Feinstein knew of Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in July, yet Republicans claim they were not told of the accusation until it was reported in the press two months later.

Now, with Ford set to appear before the Judiciary Committee this week, the White House is lashing out at Feinstein for her handling of the matter. The P.R. offensive is designed to shift the blame for the Kavanaugh debacle onto Democrats while trying to shore up GOP support. Yet right now, Kavanaugh doesn’t have the Continue reading “White House lashes out at Feinstein as Kavanaugh hearing draws near”