Thousands of pages of documents related to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s White House work won’t be ready for Senate review before the end of October, the National Archives said Thursday, throwing further doubt on the ambitious timeline that’s been set for a confirmation vote well before the midterm congressional elections.
The Archives General Counsel Gary Stern wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley that the emails and other records requested by Republicans could total 900,000 pages, making the Aug. 15 deadline Grassley set impossible to meet. That’s not counting additional documents being sought by Democrats.
The committee plans to press ahead with its timeline and expects to obtain many documents from the George W. Bush Presidential Library on an expedited basis, said Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Republicans on the panel.
Grassley had already indicated the schedule for Kavanaugh’s Senate review was slipping. He said Thursday that confirmation hearings probably won’t take place until “sometime during September,” rather than in August, even though the Senate is scheduled to be in session much of this month after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky shortened the annual recess. Grassley said Oct. 1 remains a goal for a Senate vote, but it may not be met.
‘Before the Election’
“The realistic thing is to say we’ll have the hearing sometime during September, ideally to get it done by the first day of the court, but for sure to get it done before the election,” Grassley said before the letter from Stern was released.
Grassley’s remarks suggest a timetable that extends a bit past the 66 days it took last year to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first high court pick. The more protracted process with Kavanaugh puts another politically divisive issue into the deluge of advertising and mailings that will reach voters at the same time congressional campaigns are moving into high gear.
It also could have an impact on the court’s work. The justices are scheduled to hear arguments in 10 cases during the first two weeks of October, including an Oct. 1 fight over the scope of the Endangered Species Act and an Oct. 10 clash over the power of federal immigration officials to detain convicted criminals who have been released after serving their sentences.
If Kavanaugh isn’t confirmed by then, the court would be susceptible to splitting 4-4 and having to hear arguments a second time to let the new justice break a tie. His absence also could delay decisions to take up new cases.
Grassley had requested all documents, including emails, from Kavanaugh’s work as associate counsel in President George W. Bush’s White House, as well as those related to his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Stern wrote that Archives personnel began reviewing records as soon as the nomination was announced.
“However, please note that we will not be able to complete our review of all of the records that you have requested by August 15, 2018,” he wrote. There are roughly 300,000 emails that can be produced by late August and “currently expect to be able to complete the remaining 600,000 pages by the end of October 2018.”
The lag in Kavanaugh’s confirmation comes as lawmakers in both parties are sparring over which documents from his extended career, which includes five years in two top White House jobs under Bush, will be released to the public and reviewed as part of the confirmation process.
Grassley angered Democrats last week by departing from past tradition and releasing a partisan document request to National Archives staff. It left out documents from Kavanaugh’s three years as staff secretary under Bush, when he was in charge of all documents to and from the president. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York hasn’t given up, asking the national archivist, David Ferriero, this week to consider releasing all the records.
Outside groups on both sides of the confirmation appear to be holding their fire a bit. Despite promises of heavy spending by interest groups, broadcast television advertising has been narrowly targeted and relatively modest.
The conservative Judicial Crisis Network has run the most broadcast TV ads so far and has spent the most of any group campaigning for or against the nominee by name. The pro-Kavanaugh group has aired 2,237 spots at an estimated cost of about $868,000 since Trump made his pick known on July 9, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political advertising.
JCN has targeted five television markets in the home states of key Democratic senators with spots that specifically name Kavanaugh: Fargo, North Dakota (520 spots); Indianapolis (495 spots); Bismarck-Minot, North Dakota (429 spots); Charleston, West Virginia (387 spots); and Birmingham, Alabama (276 spots).
When all types of advertising are included, JCN has spent $4.3 million so far in promoting Kavanaugh, said Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel and policy director. That includes $2.1 million that has been spent in Indiana, West Virginia, North Dakota and Alabama.
“We’re prepared to spend whatever it takes,” said Severino, noting that the group spent $10 million pushing for Gorsuch’s confirmation.
Senator Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat who won his seat in a special election in the heavily Republican state in December, has said he’s keeping an open mind about Kavanaugh. Three other Democrats — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — all face voters this fall in states Trump won 2016, and all three voted for Gorsuch. They also have given no indication of how they’ll vote.
Plenty more spending will follow. The powerful public policy and political network led by billionaire Charles Koch has pledged to spend at least $1 million on advertising and other activities to support Kavanaugh. Americans for Prosperity, the flagship political entity within the network, said Monday that it has already made contact with about 922,000 Americans regarding the nominee through direct mail, phone calls and door knocking.
Ralph Reed, the chairman of the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition, which is backing Kavanaugh’s confirmation, said his group plans to send out 6 million pieces of mail in Trump-won states represented by Democratic senators, focused on Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota and Florida.
He also said the group will produce 10 million digital ads aimed at evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics in those states, urging them to reach out to their senator, and make 5 million phone calls in key states. Much of that work will happen about the time the Judiciary Committee is holding its hearings.
“We’re going to be making this a major priority,” Reed said in an interview. His social conservative group says it has 1.8 million members.
–With assistance from Arit John and John McCormick.
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