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Wake Up To Politics - September 4, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, September 4, 2018. 63 days until Election Day 2018. 791 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Kavanaugh hearings to begin

Confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh are set to kick off at 9:30am today, the Supreme Court nominee's first opportunity to answer questions on a national stage before he could be able to shape law for a generation.

Kavanaugh, 53, is President Donald Trump's second nominee for the nation's highest court. Unlike his first, Kavanaugh won't be replacing a reliably conservative justice; if confirmed, he will succeed retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has spent decades as the court's key swing vote. Kavanaugh's confirmation would cement the Supreme Court's conservative majority and have a potentially transformational impact on rulings on issues from abortion to campaign finance, gun rights to voting rights.  

The hearings are expected to last four days. Questioning of the nominee won't start until tomorrow: today, all 21 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will offer 10-minute opening statements, followed by speeches introducing the nominee, and then his opening statement. Kavanaugh will be introduced by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and attorney Lisa Blatt (who wrote a Politico Magazine piece titled, "I'm a Liberal Feminist Lawyer. Here's Why Democrats Should Support Judge Kavanaugh," last month).

According to excerpts of his opening statement released by the White House, Kavanaugh will describe himself as a "pro-law judge" before the Judiciary Committee.

"A good judge must be an umpire—a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy," he will say. "I don't decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge."

He will also vow to be "a team player" on the "Team of Nine, committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States."

Although the Republican majority in the Senate makes blocking him an uphill battle, Democrats are promising not to let him sail easily to approval. "Sparks will fly at this hearing," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told reporters Friday. According to ABC News, Democrats plan to "paint [Kavvanaugh] as a partisan Republican," grilling him on issues from "social policies, including LGBTQ rights and the fate of Obamacare, to national security matters."

The key issue Democrats are expected to focus on will be abortion, looking to pin him down on whether the future of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is secure. Senate Democrats are also expected to press Kavanaugh for his views on investigations of the president — amid the backdrop of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, which could cause a fight over a presidential subpoena, which would likely be decided by the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh's writings have suggested that presidents should be shielded from criminal investigations while in office.

Democrats attempted to delay the hearings due to the 100,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh's time in the George W. Bush Administration that the Trump Administration is withholding from release, citing executive privilege. Republicans counter that more documents have been made available for Kavanaugh than any previous Supreme Court nominee. Just last night, 42,000 pages of documents were turned over to the Senate, hours before the hearings were set to begin.

The confirmation hearings will be Kavanaugh's biggest moment in the spotlight after nearly three decades in the legal profession. Kavanaugh clerked for Justice Kennedy, followed by a stint as an attorney on independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation of Bill Clinton. He then became a partner at the D.C. law firm Kirkland & Ellis before becoming Associate White House Counselandthen White House Staff Secretary under George W. Bush.

Bush appointed Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often referred to as the "second-most powerful court" in the country (due to its jurisdiction over federal agencies and its stepping-stone status to the Supreme Court), in 2003. He has served on the bench since his confirmation in 2006.

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The Rundown

Summer's over: Both houses of Congress return from summer recess today, as a shutdown deadline looms on October 1. And Labor Day is over, marking the unofficial kick-off of the 2018 midterm season, with less than 65 days to go until election day.

Trump vs. Sessions: President Trump attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday, accusing him of hurting the Republican Party's chances in the midterm elections by greenlighting indictments of two GOP congressmen.

"Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publiczed charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department," he tweeted. "Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff."

Trump was referring to the recent indictments of Reps. Chris Collins (R-NY), for insider trading, and Duncan Hunter (R-CA), for misuse of campaign funds. Despite the president's assertion, the Collins investigation did not begin until after Trump took office.

--- The tweet's stunning implication that the Justice Department's decisions should be based on what is politically expedient for the president's party "rattled even key Republicans," according to Axios, which referred to a potential "rule-of-law crisis." Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) responded in a statement, declaring: "The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice - one for the majority party and one for the minority party."

Massachusetts primary day: As voters head to the polls in the Bay State today, the most-watched race will be in Massachusetts' 7th District, where Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA) is "in the political fight of his life." Capuano faces his first serious challenger since taking office in 1999: Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who has received the backing of New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (whose incumbent-slaying primary campaign she is attempting to imitate) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, as well as the state's two largest newspapers, the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

Polling roundup: Democrats hold a 14-point edge on the generic congressional ballot, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found. According to the poll, 52% of registered voters favor the Democratic candidate in their district, while 38% prefer the Republican candidate. This is the Democrats' largest advantage in midterm preference in the poll since 2006, when they seized control of both houses of Congress.

--- An ABC poll also tested opinions on Brett Kavanaugh, finding that 38% of Americans support his confirmation, versus 39% who don't. Only two Supreme Court nominees have had lower levels of public support: Harriet Miers (2005) and Robert Bork (1987). Neither were confirmed.

--- An NBC News/Marist poll of Missouri found Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in a tied race with Republican challenger Josh Hawley. Both McCaskill and Hawley receive 47% support among likely voters, while Hawley leads 47% to 46% among registered voters. When third-party candidates are included in the poll, McCaskill leads among likely voters, 44% to 40%.

2020 Central: "Biden hits the trail like he's running" (Politico)... "Advisers say Joe Biden to decide on a 2020 run by January" (Associated Press)

White House schedule

POTUS: At 11:15am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 12:15pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 1:30pm, the president has a meeting with CEOs from the U.S. Travel Association.

VP: In addition to his lunch with Trump, at 4:30pm, Vice President Pence participates in a meeting with Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 3pm. The chamber will hold a cloture vote at 5:30pm on the nomination fo Elad Roisman to be a Member of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

House: The House meets at 2pm today. The lower chamber is set to consider twelve pieces of legislation, focused on homeland security.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court is on its summer recess.

*All times Eastern