By ZEKE MILLER and LISA MASCARO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh isn’t the only one engaging in practice sessions ahead of next week’s grueling confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senators from both parties also are prepping for the four-day marathon — including Wednesday’s multi-hour question-and-answer exchange — in which Kavanaugh’s views on the biggest legal issues of the day are expected to be mined for the conservative judge’s approach to the law.
Abortion, executive power, campaign finance reform, regulatory oversight and gun violence are among the many topics senators in particular are preparing to probe after the 53-year-old appellate court judge raises his right hand and is sworn in for the hearings.
President Donald Trump’s pick for the court has long been readying for this moment. A White House operation is focused primarily on defending Kavanaugh and amplifying his answers, with Senate Republicans set to take the lead in going after Democrats on the committee.
The White House has assembled a team of attorneys from the counsel’s office, Kavanaugh’s roster of former clerks, and other Republican lawyers to document his record and meticulously prepare him for the questions they expect him to face. For every line of questioning, the lawyers and communications aides have prepared suggested responses for Kavanaugh to deploy and amplifying material to release to the public.
The operation is standard for any confirmation process, but given the polarized political environment the White House is preparing for an intense battle.
The process began shortly after Kavanaugh’s selection, with the team arranging binders on every conceivable issue. They now line the office used by the confirmation team in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and many will move over to Capitol Hill for the hearing. In the subsequent weeks, White House attorneys and his former law clerks engaged Kavanaugh in question and answer sessions on those topics, as communications and legislative affairs aides looked on.
Those conversations evolved into topical sessions and then to full mock hearings. The committee’s former chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chaired the mock sessions, as he and a number of other senators took turns grilling the judge on issues they expect committee members to raise, according to a Republican aide granted anonymity to discuss the process.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also participated, according to a source familiar with the sessions. Justice Department and White House attorneys, as well as outside allies, stood in for key Republican and Democratic senators on the committee. The officials would not say how many mock hearings have been conducted, but they insist Kavanaugh is well prepared.
In the office suite serving as a substitute for the committee’s hearing room, White House aides have sought to make the hours-long sessions as realistic as possible, employing timers and lights like those used for witnesses and even having staffers role-play as expected protesters.
Senators, at least on the Democratic side, are engaged in similar moot sessions.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., enlisted the expertise of Ron Klain, a former White House official and top debate prep adviser, for mock exchanges. He plans to focus much of his inquiry into Kavanaugh’s views on executive power. For the first round of questions, each senator on the panel is allotted 30 minutes.
“There’s a lot of different topics to focus on, but given the context we’re in, I am most concerned about Judge Kavanaugh’s long and demonstrated record of thinking that the executive branch should have more power than it does now,” Coons said. “It has to give one pause in a context where our current president is currently being investing by a special counsel.”
Republicans are also preparing but an aide to the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said other than reading his questions aloud a few times beforehand, he’s doesn’t feel the need to engage in practice sessions.
“This is his 15th Supreme Court hearing,” said spokesman Taylor Foy about the 84-year-old senator. “He’s good.”
Once Kavanaugh settles in before the committee, a crew of White House advisers, lawyers, and GOP strategists won’t be far away. Senior aides are set to huddle in a room off the committee’s hearing room, with a larger group of staffers working out of a “war room” in the vice president’s office suite in the Capitol.
There Judiciary Committee staff, leadership aides, and White House allies will coordinate their rapid-response operation with the Republican National Committee and conservative outside groups like America Rising and the Judicial Crisis Network.
The RNC will be launching a public messaging push, which includes a website to educate Americans about Kavanaugh’s record.