North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis joined me this morning to discuss the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the D.C. Circuit:
HH: I’m so pleased to welcome United States Senator Thom Tillis from the great state of North Carolina. Good morning, Senator Tillis, welcome back.
TT: Good morning, Hugh. How are you?
HH: I’m terrific. You’re on Senate Judiciary, so first, give us your reaction to the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh.
TT: Great pick, great life of public service, wonderful family, 300 decisions that people can judge his objectivity. I just think he’s a great pick, and I’m looking forward to the hearings in Judiciary and get to know him better.
HH: Are your friends on the other side of the aisle who are on the committee and otherwise as unhinged in private as they are in public?
TT: You know, I’m not really, I think that’s a great question, Hugh, because so much of what we see on Capitol Hill is theater. Frankly, I think some of them may be very uneasy in private, saying you know, we look at this guy, he’s got a great body of work that they’re going to have to, I think the only reason they’re reviewing the documents is not to arrive at a yes, but to come up with some rational basis for an irrational no. And so yeah, I think what you’re seeing in public, but for a handful, is purely what the marketing department asked them to say on their talking points. But many of them are really looking at this going you know, this guy’s got a great record, great academic credentials, and I think opinions that you know, quite honestly, put people on my side of the aisle, a couple of them, out of their comfort zone, but I think he did it because the Constitution and the law told him he had to.
HH: Now Senator Tillis, I always listen for the dog that doesn’t bark. When you have 300 published opinions, and the left can’t point to one of them as being the arrow in their quiver that they’re going to shoot at him, that is, and his name has been on the list since October, and everyone’s known about Brett Kavanaugh since 2006 when he was held up in the Senate unfairly for months. The dog is not barking. They ain’t got anything.
TT: That’s exactly right, and I think that the information that they want when he was in the Bush administration will be provided, and they won’t find anything there. So all they’ll go back to are the tired, old talking points that actually date back to the, if you take a look at some of the objections Democrats have had to justices put forth by Republican presidents, they’re using the same talking points that date back to the 70s. They said that Justice Kennedy was going to be a great threat to women’s issues, Justice Kennedy. So they’re using the same, old talking points.
HH: That’s the 90s.
HH: I remind people Bork got borked…
TT: Yeah, but I’m saying all the way back to the 70s. We can find evidence of other ones going back to the 70s.
HH: Yeah, yeah, with, and here’s my, yesterday, they were pressing Mike Pence. We don’t know how he’s going to rule on any case implicating Planned Parenthood V. Casey and its predecessor, Roe. We don’t know. We’ve been wrong a lot – David Souter, Justice Kennedy, Justice O’Connor all disappointed. I hope he doesn’t disappoint us when laws restricting access to late term abortions come before him, for example, but we’ll see. Let me ask you a very specific question. And I hate hiding the ball, so I hope you guys are willing to be transparent. When do you expect the hearings on Judge Kavanaugh to begin?
TT: Well, I think that if you take a look at the timeline that Sotomayor was confirmed, and Gorsuch was confirmed, it was somewhere in the 65-70 day time frame. I think if you target 65-70, this is one senator on the Judiciary speaking, then my preference would be to have the hearing two-thirds of the way into that process, which would put us about the third week of August. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it. Get the documentation to everybody that wants it, let them read, and be ready for the hearing the third week of August. You know, we have cancelled recess, and we’ve got time, and I’m glad we do.
HH: I am hoping that that is in fact the case, because I believe that will allow everyone to consider it carefully if it’s the third week in August for four or five days. Let me ask you about the papers. There are two sets of papers. When the Chief Justice was nominated, because I had served literally in the same office with him, physically in the same office with him, I got a call from the Reagan library and from the Roberts confirmation team to be prepared all my papers would be released from the Counsel’s office. I said fine. You know, it’s boring memos. Go ahead and release them. I think we’ve got to get the Kavanaugh papers released quickly. Do you agree with that, Senator Tillis?
TT: Yeah, but I think there’s two layers to that. First off, I think that we should go back to the Senate records back in 2006 and say look, you all requested a lot of this information before, so let’s expedite that. That’s within our control, and see what the net is for maybe information they need. That will accelerate getting them that information. And then there are the information that will have to come from the Bush library, very limited amount of information from the current administration, and then the information that I would think that would be key to their judgment of him is information that’s in the federal records, and that’s the court cases he’s ruled on. They can have that, and they’ve had it. And Hugh, that’s something that’s very important. He’s been on the President’s list since two years ago. It was July of 2016 that the President released the list. You can’t tell me that one of the top people on that list hasn’t been fully vetted over the last two years. So the people on the left who are saying we’re going to need a lot of time to do this is like why haven’t you invested your time now? You knew that this was a likely scenario. He’s been confirmed before for a Circuit Court judge. There’s a lot of information out there. You should start processing or reeducating yourself on now, and be ready for that hearing in August.
HH: Now Senator, I have a suggestion for you. Did you ever see the movie Up? It’s a cartoon movie.
HH: There’s, I would recommend it, because there’s a phrase in there called squirrel when a dog’s attention was diverted by a squirrel. So in these hearings, when one of your more animated colleagues like Cory Booker goes on one of this famed rants, I’d just lean over to the microphone and say squirrel. And that’s it. Just…is it…
TT: (laughing) Well, maybe, I’d be willing to do it with a variant, because I had a boxer just passed away about two months ago, and I taught him the goose command. And that was specifically to chase geese off my dock. So how about if I get inspired, I just say goose, and you’ll know that this is the equivalent of squirrel.
HH: Goose is good. Goose…move on.
HH: Yeah, if you just say goose, and everyone will know right then that we’re in theater, right? If we just get a word, whether it’s goose or squirrel, just say goose, and everyone will know that Thom Tillis knows that this is just a joke. Let me ask you about a serious thing, thought. We’ve got a lot of vacant Court of Appeals judges. Is the Judiciary Committee’s work proceeding to obtain hearings and votes for our Courts of Appeal judges?
TT: Yes, and there’s two pieces to that. We have several in the queue that we’re going to process. And we’re adding another hearing in August since we’ve cancelled the recess. And we’ve, you know, we’ve told all the members on Judiciary we want to be there, we want to make quorum, we want to get them to the floor, and we want to get them confirmed before the end of the year. And I honestly believe if our colleagues on the other side of the aisle delay it, then they’d better make Christmas plans for being in D.C., because the Leader is absolutely committed to getting those through the Senate, and rightfully so.
HH: Has your colleague, Jeff Flake, held any nominees hostage?
TT: No, I think Jeff was dealing with an issue that wasn’t related with the Judiciary, and I think that, you know, he voted judges out the last week or week before last when we were in committee. So I would, I think Jeff was just trying, as any senator does, trying to use every device within their power to get attention and get a problem that’s important to them resolved, and I think he’s done that and he’s moved on.
HH: Did you vote out any Circuit Court nominees in the last setting?
TT: In the last, actually, I think that we did, because Hugh, we’ve got two or three Circuit judges in the chamber now that we’ll have to process. And obviously, a big queue of district court judges, which are also important. So we’re not waiting. We’ve got in the pipeline nominees on the floor that we need to vote out, and we need to continue to build that pipeline. There should never be a point in time in the U.S. Senate with our majority where we don’t have a nominee that we’re trying to stack up when the scheduling’s right on the floor. And you’ve got to balance that against, you know, we’ve got a VA secretary that we’ve got to put forth, we’ve got Randy Quarles we want to get into the permanent term. There’s a lot of key nominations that we’re just trying to stack along with the NDA and a number of other, the farm bill and a number of other things that consume chamber time. But the Leader’s absolutely committed to this, and he understands the bench is one of the most important things that we’ve got to use floor time for.
HH: Now Secretary of State Pompeo, when I sat down with him two weeks ago for MSNBC, told me he needs some help. But in the back of my mind, these Circuit judges, you know, there are 8,000 cert petitions a year. The Court hears about 180 cases, only about 80 to 60 opinions. These Circuit judges are the most important thing you guys do. And I just, assure me Jeff Flake is not holding them up. Is that the case?
TT: No, I think Jeff is recognizing that, like you do and I do, it’s one of the most important things we can do, and I fully expect that Jeff’s on board and is going to be helpful to us.
HH: Now Brett Kavanaugh is going to come off the D.C. Circuit, which is the second most important court in the United States. I clerked on it, so I’m a homer here, but it is the second most important. We need a judge to walk in the day after he gets confirmed. So a parallel confirmation is neither presumptuous nor untimely. Do you want the President to send up a name for the D.C. Circuit immediately?
TT: Well, I think we should, because again, that’ll weigh in to our prioritization. It is a very important circuit. I’m not going to get into an argument over which one’s most important outside of SCOTUS. I’ll leave that to the attorneys. But I do believe that we need to get that stacked up, get it in the committee as quickly as possible, get a great candidate from a great bench of candidates, and move forward.
HH: You know who that candidate is? It’s Neomi Rao. You know, she is the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. She is terrific, and we need her at the D.C. Circuit because of this. Let’s go back to these hearings. At what point do you think Chuck Grassley will simply bring them to a conclusion? We don’t want a Clarence Thomas 2.0. We don’t want a borking. We want the same respect as was extended to Judges Sotomayor, now Justice Sotomayor, Solicitor General Kagan, now Justice Kagan. That’s what we give them. At what point will Charles Grassley bring down the gavel to stop the abuse of the nominee?
TT: Well, I think it starts with the members of Judiciary on his side of the aisle kind of setting our expectations, and I believe that we’ve done that. Chuck Grassley’s one of the best chairs that I’ve had the privilege to work with. And we’ve made it very clear that we will be respectful of the institution and the process, but we are not going to allow this process to get railroaded. And having a timeline consistent with Sotomayor and with Gorsuch is appropriate, and that’s going into this process our expectation. If it’s just a week, is that a problem? No. If it shifts much beyond that, then I think it becomes a problem.
HH: So you are very confident third or fourth week in August for hearings?
TT: Yeah, I think third or fourth week for the hearings, and then you know, that sets us up for a vote in time to get Judge Kavanaugh seated and have him ready for the next session.
HH: Perhaps by mid-September, because you’ve got to dive into those briefs. It takes a few days. 30 seconds to you, Senator Tillis. You’ve got to give them a couple of weeks to get ready for the term.
TT: Well, that’s right. That’s exactly why we’ve got to pull it forward so that he is ready to be an active member. He’s a brilliant guy. He brings a lot of experience, so I think in a couple of weeks, he’ll be ready.
HH: Last question. In terms of percentage, what’s your level of confidence that Judge Kavanaugh will become Justice Kavanaugh in September?
HH: 100%. Thom Tillis, that’s what I wanted to hear. Thank you, my friend.
End of interview.