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Durbin: Kavanaugh's views on Mueller probe 'fundamental issue'

Many Democrats have called the risk of rulings restricting abortion access their pivotal concern.
by Ben Kamisar /

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WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Sunday that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s views on President Donald Trump's rights in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation are a “fundamental issue” facing Democrats as the confirmation process moves forward.

Noting that Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee sought to press Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings last week on his stances on matters like abortion and health care, Durbin argued that current circumstances elevate the importance of how he might rule on questions of presidential power over that of other issues.

“We tried to go after the fundamental issue, the one I think is most important at this moment in history, what this man, Brett Kavanaugh, would do on the Supreme Court if he’s confronted with a question involving the White House, the Mueller investigation,” Durbin said Sunday during a broadcast of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We cannot ignore that, we shouldn’t.”

Politicians and activists have rallied Kavanaugh opponents around a number of progressive issues that they fear to be at risk if Kavanaugh is confirmed. One of those central issues is abortion rights, and many Democrats believe a conservative-majority court with Kavanaugh on the bench would at least rule to restrict access to abortion.

When pressed by NBC’s Chuck Todd about whether the Mueller probe was a more important issue in the Supreme Court debate than the abortion debate, Durbin replied “they are all of importance.”

“But the issue of the moment clearly is this situation with the Mueller investigation, and the important element that we shouldn’t overlook is Kavanaugh has been explicit in saying the president should not be subject to investigation or prosecution during his term in office,” he added.

Democrats on the panel spent hours questioning Kavanaugh on his views on whether a president would need to be compelled to testify in an investigation or could be indicted. The judge declined to discuss most of his personal thoughts, arguing that in past writings he had been entertaining possible scenarios and not indulging hypotheticals.

Abortion-related issues made up other central lines of questioning from Democrats during this week’s confirmation hearings.

During this week’s hearing, Kavanaugh referred to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision as “settled as a precedent” and “reaffirmed many times.” But some Democrats took issue with that language, arguing that Kavanaugh is dodging whether he believes the decision was properly decided.

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