Senate Democrats will begin meeting with Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh to press him privately on releasing his papers, a senior Democratic aide said Friday, after Democrats had boycotted these sit-downs for weeks amid a document dispute with Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, had held off scheduling the traditional one-on-one sessions as they tussled with Republicans over releasing documents from Kavanaugh’s voluminous paper trail, primarily from his time in the George W. Bush White House.
But Schumer and Feinstein will start meeting with President Trump’s pick to succeed retired justice Anthony M. Kennedy after the Senate returns from its truncated recess Aug. 15, a senior Senate Democratic aide said. They will press Kavanaugh on releasing his papers from his tenure as Bush’s staff secretary — which Republicans argue are irrelevant in assessing his fitness to be a justice — and “question him about their contents.”
“In addition to questioning Judge Kavanaugh on health care, women’s freedom, presidential power and other issues, Senate Democrats intend to demand that he call for and support the release of all of his files from his time in the Bush White House,” the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to freely describe party strategy. “Democrats will urge Judge Kavanaugh to ask the National Archives and President Bush to adhere to the same standard that was met for Justice [Elena] Kagan’s confirmation.”
Republicans have agreed to release only papers from Kavanaugh’s time as associate White House counsel, which span two of the five years he served under Bush. Democrats made a separate request to the National Archives to release the staff secretary records, but the Archives rebuffed their request in a letter dated Thursday. The Archives said only the chairman of a committee can make such a documents request.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Friday afternoon that Schumer and Feinstein have yet to schedule their meetings with Kavanaugh. Invites were sent to them more than three weeks ago.
“While we look forward to potential meetings, both of these Democratic senators and many of their colleagues have publicly opposed Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” Shah said. He added that Democrats were “continuing to disingenuously demand millions of pages of documents from former President Bush that are irrelevant to evaluating the Judge’s judicial thinking.”
Although most Democrats deferred to Schumer and Feinstein’s boycott, there had been a handful of exceptions. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), up for reelection in one of the most Trump-friendly states, met with Kavanaugh for two hours Monday. Other red-state Democrats, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.), have scheduled meetings with Kavanaugh for Aug. 15.
On Friday, a spokesman for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she would sit down with the Supreme Court nominee Aug. 21. McCaskill, another red-state Democrat up for reelection this fall, had faced criticism from GOP challenger Josh Hawley’s campaign for not meeting with Kavanaugh.
The National Archives has started reviewing Kavanaugh’s documents from his time as associate White House counsel but said it won’t finish going through all of them until late October. Still, Senate Republicans plan to go ahead with confirmation hearings in September, as a private legal team led by Bush’s presidential records representative conducts a separate review of Kavanaugh’s paperwork and provides them to the Senate.
Schumer raised concerns Friday that this separate process means neither the public nor senators outside of those on the Judiciary Committee would be able to see Kavanaugh’s records.
“This unprecedented effort on the part of Republicans to keep hidden Judge Kavanaugh’s records from the American public, and even the large majority of senators, is a new and astonishing level of secrecy,” Schumer said in a statement.
To make their case, Democrats pointed to a line in a letter from Bush’s records team to the Judiciary Committee, saying they had no issue making the documents public but were temporarily providing the records on a “committee confidential” basis, pending input from the Archives. But a committee spokesman said Judiciary Republicans are actively working with officials representing Bush and the Archives to ensure the documents are made public as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Feinstein jointly sent a request to the Archives on Friday for about 20,000 pages of Kavanaugh’s records from his time working for independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the Clinton administration.
The Archives has already released about 1,000 pages of the nominee’s Starr papers in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from news organizations.