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The Week Ahead In Washington


There was a time, as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham likes to point out, when he voted for both of President Obama's Supreme Court nominees. Now President Trump has a second nominee to the court. And in a talk with Fox, Graham predicted that Brett Kavanaugh will receive at least a few Democratic votes for his confirmation.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: If he does well at the hearing, he will get - my belief is 55 or higher if he does well, and I'm sure he will do well.

INSKEEP: If he does well at the hearing, he said. That Senate hearing comes this week. Democrats are determined to pose a lot of questions. Kavanaugh does have a very long record, a long paper trail. But if Republicans remain united, they can confirm Kavanaugh even without Democratic votes. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us now. Hi there, Tam.


INSKEEP: So what's the process here?

KEITH: Right. So there are going to be days and days of hearings and testimony, as well there should be. This is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. So tomorrow, Tuesday, there will be opening statements. Every senator gets 10 minutes, and then the chairman and ranking member get even more. And then Kavanaugh will be introduced, and then finally at the end of the day, he will deliver his opening statement. And...

INSKEEP: Wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa. It's going to take, like, a whole day before you even hear from the nominee, basically?

KEITH: Well, there are 20 senators and if each one gets 10 minutes, it takes a long time.

INSKEEP: OK. All right. Fine.

KEITH: So there you go. And, you know, we can expect to hear from Democrats during these statements raising concerns that not enough documents have been turned over from Kavanagh's years in the Bush White House. Republicans will point to his qualifications, say that thousands of documents have been turned over and say everything's perfectly transparent. The big event starts Wednesday. That's when senators will get to ask questions. Each senator in the first round gets 30 minutes. There could be up to three rounds. But a lot of people will just sort of - it'll wane. (Laughter).


KEITH: There will be excitement at the beginning. And then here's the thing - Supreme Court nominees have gotten very well-practiced at saying very little while seeming like they're saying something, in part because they just don't want to get tied up.

INSKEEP: OK. So how has Kavanaugh been preparing to say very little, as you point out, or to say whatever it is, whatever amount he's ready to say?

KEITH: Well, he's been doing mock hearings, sort of with timers and lights and really trying to replicate the experience, including being questioned for 30 minutes on each side just like in this hearing. The last full day of that type of prep session was last Monday. Since then he's been just sort of working through other things and putting the finishing touches on his opening statement.

INSKEEP: Do you have Republicans senators sitting with the nominee and pretending to be hostile Democratic senators?

KEITH: Well, and you had Orrin Hatch, who was formerly the chairman of the Judiciary Committee chairing the mock Judiciary Committee. You also had Lindsey Graham, who we heard from earlier. He was involved, as well.

INSKEEP: OK. So when does this process get wrapped up, assuming that it goes as Republicans would like it to go?

KEITH: The hearings would wrap up this week, and then the Republicans hope to have a vote of the full Senate by the end of September because the new session starts next month, the new Supreme Court session starts next month, and they'd like to have him there.

INSKEEP: So when Democrats think about this situation, 50 Republicans - and that's a majority, 50-49 right now. If they all stay together, they confirm Brett Kavanaugh - don't need a single Democrat, do Democrats see any path by which they could block this nomination?

KEITH: They don't see much of a path, but they're going to fight the good fight on some level because their base wants it, but also the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has basically given some of his more conservative state Democrats a pass to make their own choices on this.

INSKEEP: It is an election year. Tam, thanks very much.

KEITH: It is. You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith covers the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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