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Delaware Senator Chris Coons On The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court Nomination

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The audio:


The transcript:

HH: Joining me now, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. I know he’s praying for everyone in Wilmington, North Carolina, but I bet you you’re also relieved it’s not Wilmington, Delaware in the eye of the storm, Senator.

CC: That’s correct. Wilmington, North Carolina is a great city, and I am concerned about and praying for the people of North Carolina. But we in Delaware are glad that it looks as if it is going to weaken and stay south of us. So I have a weekend down at the beach doing events in the community planned, and I’m glad that the events we’re doing aren’t putting out sandbags, but instead, you know, meeting, gathering, talking about events of the day.

HH: I think the entire federal, state and local governmental structure is mobilized. We just have to wait to see. This could be an unusual event and we’ll follow it closely. Let’s talk about the unusual even today in the Senate Judiciary Committee. You’re going to postpone the vote on Brett Kavanaugh for a week. Am I correct about that, Senator?

CC: Yes, and that’s a tradition on the committee. Literally any nominee can be held over for one week at the request of any member, and that is routinely done for nominees for U.S. marshal, district courts, Circuit Courts. So there’s nothing unusual about the week holdover. We just got answers, I’m told, late last night. I’ll just, I’ll be looking at them today from Judge Kavanaugh to our written questions for the record, and we’ll see whether that answers any of my outstanding concerns and questions.

HH: Let me play for you your former colleague and the former United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, who was my guest yesterday for an extended interview about his book, Every Day Is Extra. The whole audio and transcript are posted at But we had one exchange about Brett Kavanaugh. It’s this.

HH: You have kind words for your then-leader, Harry Reid, and we disagree on his effectiveness. But he did kill the filibuster. Was that a mistake in retrospect, because you know, Kavanaugh couldn’t get 60 votes, but he’s going to get 54.

JK: Yeah, he is.

HH: Senator Coons?

CC: You know, I worked with a group of colleagues, Republican and Democrat, to try and save the filibuster for the Supreme Court. And I’m regretful that we were unsuccessful. As you know, the Republicans changed the filibuster margin on the Supreme Court. Democrats changed the filibuster margin on the Circuit and district courts. And I frankly hope that as me move to the next Congress, we’ll have a real conversation about restoring it. It helps make sure that future presidents nominate confirmable judges and keep the judiciary less a partisan battleground. You know, at this point, this week, we’re going to be grinding through Judge Kavanaugh’s responses to questions. I still have real concerns about his views on presidential power. There’s still, I think, a dozen senators, Democrat and Republican, who haven’t declared where they’re going to come out. I think it’s clear that Judge Kavanaugh will not get 60 votes, and it is likely he will get 50 or more.

HH: That’s what John Kerry, if you’ve lost John Kerry, it was just a concession, yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s got it. He’s done the math. And I think we all kind of recognize that sometime a week from, well, probably, what, ten days, you think it will be before the end of the month? Leader McConnell told me last week it will be before the end of the month. The vote will be, the 60 hours will roll out, and the final vote will be taken before the end of the month.

CC: If the current schedule holds, that’s correct.

HH: All right. Now Senator, you mentioned something that’s very interesting to me. Put Kavanaugh aside, and we’ll come back to him for a second. I think we ought to go back to the 60 vote margin, but provided that we repair what Senator Reid did, which was to pack the D.C. Circuit. And I’ve always thought the way out of this is to say we’ll expand the D.C. Circuit by four judges for Donald Trump, and we will guarantee he gets to put them on, and then we’re going to revert to 60 votes again for everybody. And that makes good that which was taken away. We had a couple of years of 50 vote margins, but you have to strike now when no one knows which way the Senate will go, right? Isn’t it right now where you have to negotiate a return to 60 votes if that’s the case?

CC: I won’t agree to the D.C. proposal exactly, but let me agree with your proposition that you know, when nobody knows exactly how the outcome is going to affect sort the partisan balance is the right time to be having the conversation. One of the things I regret, among many, about the passing of my friend, John McCain, he was the senator who was hosting those conversations. He was the respected sort of neutral ground person who was able to say look, as Republicans, here’s our views, here’s our principles, here’s why we’re mad at you over this, this, this and this. But I want to listen to those of you who have concerns, and let’s see if we can find some common ground. We need members, both Democrat and Republican, to step into the breach and be willing to listen to each other and work together. I was an intern on the Senate Judiciary Committee when I was in law school, back in ’91. And at that point, sitting behind the old bulls, you know, the folks who had been on that committee together for decades, they were fighting cats and dogs and saying how the system had broken down and respect was being lost. The difference between then and today is striking. The process for the documents for Kavanaugh, the ways in which we are really fighting, scrapping over this nomination and the process, the ways in which the rules have been changed, I’m very worried about what this means longer term, Hugh, for the independence of our judiciary and the respect in which they’ve long been held as being non-partisan or not in the daily fray of politics. And I see a distinct downward trend that’s been going on for decades.

HH: You know, if I were to suggest anything, it would be to gather you and Senator Klobuchar, who I repeatedly said last week distinguished yourself for tenacious but respectful questioning on important issues of the nominee along with incoming chairman Graham, and Senator Sasse…

CC: Yeah.

HH: And Lee, who did the same sort of tenacious, interesting questions, maybe with Jon Kyl in the room, the man who came back, your old colleague, your once and future senator colleague, to talk about a package of reforms. But I really, I would never as a conservative talk show host, I would bang the drum as loudly as I could if you did not repair the D.C. Circuit, because that was what started this, right? And so you could get to 55 vote numbers. You could get to 57 vote numbers, not make it 60, whatever. But it all could be negotiated right now, and that’s the group to get together and do it. Is anything happening?

CC: We are having conversations on some other unaddressed, unresolved topics, but this one, we aren’t. And it may be that we need to get through what will be some pretty sharp fighting over Kavanaugh on committee this week, on the floor next week, and then have an opportunity to talk about where are we going. There has been one constructive conversation with a whole group of senators, but it’s just a beginning over the document production process. The two parties on the committee see the document production here so sharply differently. My colleagues really view it as an illegitimate, unprecedented process. Obviously, the majority doesn’t agree. And we are having conversations about that. In the digital age, any future nominee, any future nominee who’s worked in the executive branch at a senior level is going to have a record of, you know, millions of documents when we’re talking about emails that they’re copied on. And we have to have an agreed upon, respected, non-partisan process for document production. That really became a central focus of our disagreement with Chairman Grassley. And I just, it’s just another symptom of a bigger disease.

HH: Yeah, time is ripe to sit down and hammer out a comprehensive reconstruction of comity on the committee. But let me go back to Judge Kavanaugh for a moment. You must be impressed with him as a person. Do you believe, and you’re a Christian man like I am. You don’t make an accusation of lying lightly. Do you believe he’s a liar?

CC: You know, I’m leaving that to the two more senior senators on my side who were present for the ’04 and ’06 hearings and are scrubbing through what documents they’ve been able to get access to, and are making the case. I’m going to reserve judgment until I see that put right in front of us. And I think we have an executive session meeting of, for the Judiciary Committee at 10:00 today. I think the next couple of days is the time when that case will be made or not made. I will agree with you that as someone I’ve known 30 years, you know, Judge Kavanaugh certainly presents as a good roommate, husband, father, parishioner, you know, person who serves the community. And so I think we should approach such accusations very respectfully and carefully, and not make them lightly. But you know, two of the senior members of the committee on my side have made very forceful accusations that he was not truthful back in the ’04 and ’06 confirmation hearings.

HH: Yeah, I hope you, I really hope you caution them. I had a great conversation with John Kerry yesterday about Doug Coe and your weekly Wednesday prayer breakfast.

CC: Yeah.

HH: …and about Marty Sherman. And I just think it would be terrible if sitting members of the Senate accuse Brett Kavanaugh who is a man of, I think, extraordinary character. You might disagree with him, but of lying? That’s a very serious charge, isn’t it, Senator?

CC: It is.

HH: And, well, we will watch. Bottom line, we have 30 seconds, he will be Justice Kavanaugh. When he is Justice Kavanaugh, do you have confidence he will judge with fairness and equity and a respect for law?

CC: Hugh, my one core concern is his deeply held views on presidential power and where that will take the balance between Congress and the executive over the coming decades. He’s obviously a very credentialed, very capable judge.

HH: I think it’s Federalist 69. He’s a Hamiltonian. He’s with me, Senator Coons. You’re right to be concerned about that, because I think he’s with me. Always a pleasure, Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. I appreciate you coming on very much.

End of interview.


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