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The politics of the Kavanaugh vote will resonate long after the midterms

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Senators Meet On Capitol Hill Day Before Hearing With Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh And His Accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is surrounded by reporters following a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, September 26, 2018 in Washington. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate set to vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination Friday and Saturday, it’s still unclear whether he’ll be confirmed or defeated, although the expectation is that he’ll survive along (mostly) party lines. But one thing’s for sure: The votes will reverberate beyond this election season.

Four GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 hail from states that will be top battlegrounds in the next presidential election — Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. And how they vote, undoubtedly, will be an issue in their re-election fights in the next cycle.

Indeed, after the Denver Post reported that Gardner might be on the fence regarding Kavanaugh, the GOP senator’s office released this statement: “Sen. Gardner has been supportive of Judge Kavanaugh throughout the nomination. He had the opportunity to review the FBI report tonight. Nothing in the report changed his mind and he remains supportive of Judge Kavanaughs nomination.” Colorado, of course, is a state that Hillary Clinton won by 5 points in 2016.

On the flip side, the sole Democrat up for re-election in 2020 who hails from a red state is Sen. Doug Jones, and he already announced his opposition to Kavanaugh — and so his vote will be an issue two years from now, too.

Here’s how today’s and tomorrow’s votes on Kavanaugh will work

Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, the U.S. Senate convenes at 9:30 am ET on Friday, setting up the key procedural-motion vote (cloture) at 10:30 am ET. That motion needs a simple majority to bring an end to the debate on the Kavanaugh nomination.

After that vote, which will last about 30 minutes, there will be up to 30 hours of debate on the nomination – equally divided between Republicans and Democrats – after which they will hold the final vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. If all 30 hours are used, Thorp adds, that final vote would take place about 5:00 pm ET on Saturday.

Kavanaugh in the Wall Street Journal: “I was very emotional last Thursday"

Out of everything that happened during last Thursday’s Kavanaugh-Ford testimony on Capitol Hill, maybe the most striking was Kavanaugh’s partisan tone in his opening remarks. He explained that opposition to him was “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and said “what goes around comes around.”

Trying to walk back his words and tone, Kavanaugh writes in the Wall Street Journal: “I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said... Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good.”

The good news for Kavanaugh is that he wrote the op-ed, acknowledging that his tone last Thursday was way off key. But here’s the bad news about the op-ed: It was poorly placed (why the conservative Wall Street Journal opinion pages and not, say, USA Today?); it didn’t spell out what he wants to dial back; and it neglects to mention that he wrote those opening remarks himself — the DAY BEFORE his testimony. “Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Feinstein, members of the committee, thank you for allowing me to make my statement. I wrote it myself yesterday afternoon and evening. No one has seen a draft, or it, except for one of my former law clerks. This is my statement,” he said.

The question you have to ask yourself after reading the op-ed: Does Kavanaugh truly believe he was wrong to say the things he said at the hearing? Or does he just wish he hadn’t said them? Remember, Kavanaugh’s past partisanship (hello, Ken Starr) was always one of the most problematic parts of his resume before Christine Blasey Ford.

Others weigh in on Kavanaugh

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said Kavanaugh’s performance last Thursday should disqualify him from serving on the U.S. Supreme Court. “At that time, I thought (Kavanaugh) had the qualifications for the Supreme Court should he be selected,” he said, per the Palm Beach Post. “I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability … I feel his performance in the hearings ultimately changed my mind.”

Kavanaugh’s drinking buddies from Yale write in a Washington Post op-ed that he shouldn’t be confirmed. “We each asserted that Brett lied to the Senate by stating, under oath, that he never drank to the point of forgetting what he was doing. We said, unequivocally, that each of us, on numerous occasions, had seen Brett stumbling drunk to the point that it would be impossible for him to state with any degree of certainty that he remembered everything that he did when drunk.”

But also writing in the Washington Post, Mark A. Perry – a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who clerked with Kavanaugh at the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1990s – stands up for the nominee. “While I didn’t know Kavanaugh in high school, college or law school, I have known him for virtually all of his professional life — his time as a lawyer and judge, which led to his nomination to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Nothing I have seen of him over the course of 27 years bears any resemblance to the distressing and distorted picture painted of him during the past few weeks.”

Charlie Cook:The real blue wave could come in the gubernatorial races

Finally, don’t miss what Charlie Cook writes about the gubernatorial races. “I expect net gains for Democrats in governorships of between six and a dozen, and a pickup for Democrats of between 400 and 650 state legislative seats, more than the average midterm loss of 375 seats for the party in the White House. These state elections are the most under-reported story in politics, with control of chambers likely tipping from Republicans to Democrats.”