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Wake Up To Politics - October 5, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, October 5, 2018. 32 days until Election Day 2018. 760 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Senate to hold procedural vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate is scheduled to hold a key procedural vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh today, moving the nominee one step closer to the Supreme Court after a months-long and often-rancorous process.

Senators spent Thursday reviewing the FBI report on sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh. Unsurprisingly, members of each party had divergent reactions to the 46 pages of materials from the 10 interviews conducted by the bureau. "There's nothing in it that we don't already know," Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said in a statement. "These uncorroborated accusations have been unequivocally and repeatedly rejected by Judge Kavanaugh, and neither the Judiciary Committee nor the FBI could locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations." Grassley added that the report included "no hint of misconduct" on Kavanaugh's part.

Democrats held a different view: "To say that this investigation exonerates Judge Kavanaugh, or to say that this is a complete investigation, is patently false," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. Other Democrats criticized the FBI for failing to follow up on other leads, declining to interview Dr. Christine Ford (who accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her while they were in high school) or others who knew Kavanaugh from high school and college and have accused the nominee of lying about his drinking and other matters in his congressional testimony last week.

The FBI did interview eyewitnesses named by Dr. Ford, as well as Deborah Ramirez (who accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her while they were freshman students at Yale) and potential eyewitnesses she named.

"If that's an investigation, it's a bullshit investigation," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said, crystallizing the view of many Democrats.

But all eyes were on a small bloc of wavering senators, a group that shrunk on Thursday when Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) announced that she would oppose Kavanaugh. "When I listened to Dr. Ford testify, I heard the voices of women I have known throughout my life who have similar stories of sexual assault and abuse," she said in a statement. Heitkamp is highly vulnerable in her re-election contest this November.

With Heitkamp's announcement, four senators remain undecided: Republicans Susan Collins (ME), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Democrat Joe Manchin (WV). Collins and Flake seemed to accept the FBI probe, which the former called "a very thorough investigation" and the latter said was "reassuring." Murkowski and Manchin, however, have yet to show their hands. Republican leaders appeared confident on Thursday after the undecided senators reviewed the FBI report.

Due to a rules change enacted by Senate Republicans last year, Kavanaugh would need the support of 50 senators to vote to cut off debate on his nomination, meaning he can afford to lose just one GOP vote. If he advances today, a final confirmation vote would likely be held on Saturday — although that timeline was complicated on Thursday after Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) announced that he would be at his daughter's wedding on Saturday. If his vote is needed, the vote would have to be held open into early Sunday morning, so Daines could fly back to Washington after the wedding.

At the eleventh hour, Kavanaugh opted to take control of his own defense operation, penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed seeking to shoot down questions about his judicial temperament in the wake of his highly-charged testimony last week. "I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times," Kavanaugh acknowledged. "I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad."

Other Thursday developments...

  • Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 98, told an audience in Florida that Kavanaugh does not belong on the bench, according to the Palm Beach Post. Noting that he had previous praised the nominee, Stevens said: “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.”
  • A trio of Kavanaugh's Yale "drinking buddies" published a Washington Post op-ed calling for the Senate to reject his nomination and asserting that Kavanaugh had "lied to the Senate by stating, under oath, that he never drank to the point of forgetting what he was doing."
  • The Washington Post editorial board urged senators to vote "no" on Kavanaugh's nomination, its first time opossing a Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork in 1987.

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The Rundown

Midterm fallout: "President Trump and his conservative allies now see their effort to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as central to salvaging the Republican Party’s fortunes in the midterm elections, and hope to use the fervent liberal opposition to his nomination to the Supreme Court as a graphic example of the threat posed by a Democratic return to power in Congress." (New York Times)

--- "Republican enthusiasm surges amid Supreme Court battle" (McClatchy) The Kavanaugh fight seems to have boosted GOP fundraising and polling... but can it last?

Inside the Trump Administration: "U.S. President Donald Trump is peeved with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson over her handling of his directive to stand up a separate Space Force in the U.S. military, and he’s considering ousting her after the midterm elections." (Foreign Policy)

--- "One month ago Friday, an unidentified Trump administration official set off a White House firestorm by claiming in a New York Times opinion piece to be part of a secret 'resistance' force out to undermine parts of President Donald Trump’s agenda. The article triggered cries of 'treason' from Trump and a demand that the powers of the federal government be brought to bear to root out the disloyal officials. And then...not much happened. The investigation, which existed more in name than practice, stalled. A move to clean house never occurred. The author’s identity is still a mystery." (Associated Press)

Inside the Senate: "Why is Lindsey Graham acting like this?" (Washington Post)

White House schedule

POTUS: At 11:30am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 1:45pm, he participates in a Defense Industrial Base Report Presentation. At 2:45pm, he participates in a signing ceremony for the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

Congress schedule

Senate: At 10:30am, the Senate will hold a procedural vote on whether to end debate on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

House: The House is on recess through the midterm elections.

*All times Eastern