How Democratic Senators in Trump States Explained Kavanaugh Votes By Phillip Howard

How Democratic Senators in Trump States Explained Kavanaugh Votes By Phillip Howard


The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research has provided ongoing examination of the 10 Democratic Senators up for reelection in states Donald Trump won (recent examples here, here, & here). The contentious confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanuagh constituted a significant wave that swept through midterm Senate campaigns. Several analysts have contended the hearings were electorally helpful for Republicans, particularly in regard to Senate candidates. Below are the compiled explanations, in their own words, behind the confirmation votes of these 10 Senate Democrats.


Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Manchin is the only Senate Democrat to vote yes for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. In a statement, Manchin said he voted yes “based on the facts I have.” He further added that while he believes Dr. Ford, he still doesn’t believe “that the facts show it was Brett Kavanaugh.”

Manchin’s vote has earned some sympathy from voters in West Virginia. One voter said that Manchin understands that “his constituents out here told him basically, ‘You vote this guy in or we’re going to vote you out.’ He figured he better stay in with his people.”

However, he has also faced a firestorm of criticism as well. For example, one piece of criticism came from Julia Hamilton, a 30-year-old educator who serves on the committee of the Moningalia County Democratic Party, had this to say about Manchin’s yes vote:

“At some point you have to draw a line…I have heard from many, many people-especially women. They won’t be voting for Manchin either.”

Patrick Morrisey, Manchin’s GOP opponent, called his yes vote “gutless,” further adding that Manchin will only vote the right way “only when [Sen. Chuck Schumer] and his liberal donors give him permission.”


Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Baldwin looked at Kavanaugh’s voting record on issues before making her final decision. While the allegations against him did play a factor, Baldwin highlighted her opposition to Kavanaugh on abortion rights:

“The President vowed to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and I cannot support a nominee for a lifetime appointment who would turn back the clock on a woman’s constitutional right and freedom to make her own health care choices, including access to birth control.”

Leah Vukmir, Baldwin’s GOP opponent, stated the following about Baldwin’s decision to vote no:

“Now Senator Baldwin-who could not meet with Brett Kavanaugh despite planning a fundraiser with Dr. Ford’s attorneys-will bus in the paid protesters like we saw in 2011 and attempt to filibuster this nomination because she believes Hillary Clinton should have chosen our next Supreme Court justice.”

Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Brown voted no on Kavanaugh mostly on the basis of Dr. Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judicary Committee. Brown said that “Dr. Ford’s courage is inspiring and I am very grateful for her coming forward to tell her story, even in the face of deep personal cost. She was moving, heartfelt and honest.” Brown further added that Dr. Ford’s testimony was “a powerful moment for our country.”

Jim Rencacci, Brown’s GOP opponent, had this to say about Brown’s decision to vote no:

No one is surprised that one of the most liberal senators who votes in lock-step with Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer would vote against yet another of President Trump’s Supreme Court justices. After voting for 100 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees, Brown is now putting party loyalty ahead of doing what’s right. Judge Kavanaugh is a thoughtful, experienced jurist who will make an excellent Supreme Court justice. Once again, Sherrod Brown is proving he’s completely out of touch with Ohioans and far too liberal to represent Ohio in the Senate.

Photo by ABC

Photo by ABC

Bob Casey (D-PA)

In a related statement Casey had this to say on why he was voting no:

“You’ve got a Congress and both houses controlled by the hard right, you have an administration that shows great deference to the hard right on virtually every major issue…I’m not going to be complicit in turning over this third branch of government to the hard right.”

Lou Barletta, Casey’s GOP opponent, rebuked Casey over his decision, saying:

“Moderate Democrats, independents and Republicans voted for Donald Trump knowing who he would select for the Supreme Court.” Barletta further stated that Trump’s election in 2016 included “the names [of potential nominees who] were vetted by the American people.”

Joe Donnelly (D-IN)

In a prepared statement on Kavanaugh, Donnelly had the following to say:

“I have deep reservations about Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to this lifetime position, as I stated, we have been unable to get all the information necessary regarding this nomination, despite my best efforts. Only 113 people have ever served on the Supreme Court, and I believe that we must do our level best to protect this sanctity.”

Recently, in a YouTube video after the confirmation of Kavanaugh, Donnelly said that he is “very hopeful for [Kavanaugh’s] success and for him to join the other justices to make decisions based on the constitution, our laws and their collective wisdom.” He further believes that the confirmation process was “unfair to everyone, and unnecessarily divided our country.”

Donnelly’s opponent, Mike Braun, responded that Donnelly joined fellow Senate Democrats in a “media circus to smear and obstruct President Trump’s nominee.”

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)                 

Heitkamp was one of three Democratic Senators to vote yes for President Trump’s last Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. She was ready to vote yes for Kavanaugh until she witnessed the demeanor of Kavanaugh during his hearing after Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony two weeks ago. Heitkamp had this to say about Kavanaugh:

“I saw somebody who was very angry, who was very nervous, and I saw rage that a lot of people said, ‘well of course you’re going to see rage he’s being falsely accused.’ But it is at all times you’re to acquit yourself with a demeanor that’s becoming of the court.”

Heikamp’s own experience as an attorney with sexual assault victims also had play in her final decision:

“I certainly think I have expertise beyond a number of people within the United States Senate and that expertise is that I have sat across the desk with victims people I’ve believed when they told me their story, and I had to say, ‘I believe you but these cases can’t be proved beyond a reasonable doubt so we can’t proceed with the prosecution.’ And when you’ve said that, you know for a victim, the most important thing you can say is ‘I believe you’ if you do, and I think it really came down to that I believed her [Dr. Ford].”

Kevin Cramer, the GOP challenger, discredited Dr. Ford’s testimony in an interview, saying “she admits she was a 15-year-old that had been drinking at a party that-I mean, how many 15-year-olds handle a lot of alcohol, you know, 36 years ago? When it wasn’t that common, by the way…Thirty-six years ago it wasn’t that common for 15-year-olds to be at booze parties.”

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP

Bill Nelson (D-FL)

While Nelson voted no on Kavanaugh, unlike other Senate Democrats looked at, Nelson reserved his judgement on the issue, simply saying in a tweet that he would vote no.

Rick Scott, Florida governor and Nelson’s GOP opponent, said the following on Nelson’s decision to vote no in a tweet:

“This is not news. This was always the case. You were always going to do exactly what your party leaders told you to do. You decided no before you even knew who the nominee was. Your vote does not even belong to you-it belongs to Sen. [Chuck] Schumer.”

Meanwhile, Nelson’s GOP colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio had this to say on why he would be voting for Kavanaugh’s nomination:

“I will not vote against the nomination of someone who I am otherwise inclined to support and in the process add credence to charges which have already done permanent damage to his reputation, on the basis of allegations for which there is no independent corroboration and which are at odds with everything else we have heard about [Kavanaugh’s] character.”

Claire McCaskill (D-MO)  

In a prepared statement, McCaskill explained:

“My decision is not based on those allegations but rather his positions in several key issues, most importantly the avalanche of dark, anonymous money that is crushing our democracy… He has revealed his bias against limits on campaign donations which place him completely out of the mainstream of this nation,” she further added that she was “also uncomfortable about his view on Presidential power as it relates to the rule of law, and his position that corporations are people.”

McCaskill has further stated she would not consider removing Kavanaugh from the bench, despite her concerns about him. Seizing on this opportunity, Josh Hawley, her opponent, added that “every politician who stands up to [Democrats] will be threatened with removal, and Claire McCaskill will go right along with it just as she always has…It’s her party. These are her leaders and she would not raise a single word against it.”

Photo by The Bridge

Photo by The Bridge

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Stabenow, in a tweet, shared the following statement from her campaign page on why she was voting no on Kavanaugh:

“In Judge Kavanaugh’s long record of cases and opinions, time and again he’s chosen to put wealthy special interests ahead of the majority of Americans. His record clearly shows he would turn back the clock on women’s access to reproductive care while making it harder for Michigan families to get affordable health insurance. That would especially be true for those who have a pre-existing condition.”

“Throughout his judicial career, Judge Kavanaugh has put the needs of the special interests over the rights of workers. He’s sided with polluters instead of the environment. His appointment poses a threat to Michigan’s water, Great Lakes and air.”

John James, Stabenow’s GOP opponent, stated that “both parties have failed.” He called out Stabenow as well as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as part of a group that “failed the American people.” In light of the allegations against Kavanaugh, James has said that “we need to listen to women and we need to get results for everyone.” James further added: “we need to make sure that the state and local governments have every resource they need to make sure that we bring justice to perpetrators and make sure that victims get the care and the support that they need.”

Jon Tester (D-MN) 

Tester cited some of the previously stated concerns for being a no vote on Kavanaugh, such as Dr. Ford’s allegations and testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Tester also went further defending his no vote stating:

“I have concerns that Judge Kavanaugh defended the Patriot Act instead of Montanans’ privacy…I have concerns about his support for more dark money in politics. I have concerns about who he believes is in charge of making personal health decisions.”

Mike Rosendale, Tester’s GOP opponent, said that “we always knew Jon Tester was never going to vote for Judge Brett Kavanaugh.” Rosendale goes on to criticize Tester’s defense of not meeting with Kavanaugh, saying:

“Not only would [Tester] not meet with [Kavanaugh], but then he lied and said the White House canceled his appointment…[Tester] didn’t even take the time to exercise one of his most important jobs that a senator has, which is to confirm a United States Supreme Court justice.”

Phillip Howard is a graduate student at Utica College


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