McConnell: Conservative revamp of the courts isn’t done yet

Mitch McConnell isn’t done with his “project” to revamp the nation’s courts.

Hours before the Senate was set to approve Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the Senate majority leader said in an interview Saturday that he plans confirmations of more lifetime justices before the November election. The Kentucky Republican plans to meet with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about a package of nominees — and Schumer’s response could determine when or whether Schumer’s vulnerable members will be able to go home and campaign for their seats.

“There are still tools that I have available, that’s why I canceled the August recess. And that’s something I’ll discuss with Sen. Schumer before we leave for the election,” McConnell said in a telephone interview, as he began an extended victory lap on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. He said “of course” more judges will be confirmed before Nov. 6, though Democrats may now be under enormous pressure to block as many judges as they can after the deflating loss on Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh’s ascension to the high court marks the 69th judicial confirmation of Donald Trump’s presidency under McConnell stewardship of the Senate. There are more than 30 lifetime District and Circuit court nominees ready for floor action in the Senate that McConnell could try to confirm before the election, though under Senate rules Democrats could delay them and would likely be able to narrow that list if the two parties try to strike a confirmation deal.

Yet those battles will pale in comparison to Kavanaugh, which McConnell called “the toughest confirmation by far that I’ve been involved in.” He said the possibility of Kavanaugh withdrawing “never crossed my mind,” but admitted that his GOP members likely had “doubts” at times that Kavanaugh could be confirmed amid the airing of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted her in 1982 and other sexual misconduct claims.

“I felt strongly that really all the way through the process, that in fairness to Judge Kavanaugh, he deserved a vote. You know, to leave him hanging after what they’d done to him was not fair to him or the country,” McConnell said. “And I’m glad that it ended up being a situation where he was, in my view, exonerated, and is going to be on the Supreme Court.”

The GOP leader fashions himself an expert in getting an edge in close elections, and he said that he believes the Kavanaugh win will supercharge the conservative electorate in red states where Democrats are scraping to keep their seats. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority and could conceivably lose it next month, but they have viable opportunities to oust incumbents in a handful of states where the president is popular.

All Democrats but Joe Manchin of West Virginia opposed Kavanaugh.

“If you don’t want to kneecap the Trump administration halfway through, you need to hold the Senate,” McConnell said. The fight has “energized our base like nothing else we’ve been able to come up with … If you look at where the competitive Senate races are, many of them are in states where this makes a huge difference.”

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