The White House is making last-minute preparations for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings next week, holding final prep sessions and setting up a pair of rapid-response war rooms.
Kavanaugh, a Washington veteran who worked for President George W. Bush and helped write the Starr Report, has called on his vast network to help him get ready for the hearings. His former clerks, lawyers from the conservative Federalist Society and even Republican senators have participated in nearly a dozen practice sessions designed to mimic the conditions of the often grueling hearings, according to a White House official.
On Monday, Kavanaugh participated in his last full moot court session, which lasted nearly the entire day. Sitting in a large office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, he took questions from aides who played key members of the committee, mimicking their style of questioning. The mock hearing room has been outfitted with a dais, nametags, microphones and a clock with red and green lights meant to keep his answers within the allotted time limit.
The sessions, which are often referred to as “murder boards,” have also featured faux protesters to make sure Kavanaugh stays cool in the event of a midhearing outburst.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolinia, Rob Portman of Ohio and Dan Sullivan of Alaska have all helped Kavanaugh practice and critique his performance, according to people familiar with the sessions. Another source said that Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah — a former Judiciary Committee chairman — played the role of chairman in a mock hearing, which included GOP senators standing in for Judiciary members and zeroing in on topics that Democrats are expected to grill Kavanaugh about.
It’s not uncommon for senators to help Supreme Court nominees of their own party prepare for confirmation hearings. Graham, for example, has participated in practice sessions for John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first nominee for the high court, while Sullivan also helped with Gorsuch’s preparations.
The White House is organizing a war room in the Senate near the committee room that will be staffed by administration officials, Senate leadership aides and Judiciary Committee staff. A second war room is being set up in Vice President Mike Pence’s Senate office. Staffers will be ready “in case there’s a surprise,” the White House official said.
Kavanaugh’s prep work for the confirmation hearings began in earnest soon after President Donald Trump nominated him in July. Staff from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy and the White House counsel’s office, along with Kavanaugh’s former clerks, prepared dozens of binders packed with information and suggested answers about everything from the establishment clause to environmental law. Kavanaugh took one or two binders home each night, the official said.
The prep work largely mirrored the process Gorsuch underwent before his largely noncontroversial confirmation hearings last year. Gorsuch was confirmed in a 54-45 vote, and Trump has subsequently described the confirmation as one of the high points of his presidency.
Opening statements from Judiciary Committee lawmakers will begin on Tuesday. The committee is preparing for two full days of questioning on Wednesday and Thursday before a panel of outside witnesses, including the American Bar Association, testifies about the nominee on Friday, Sept. 7.
Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, will be introduced to the committee on Tuesday by Portman, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Lisa Blatt, a former clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who wrote a recent op-ed urging liberals to support the nomination.
Civil rights organizations, abortion advocates and consumer watchdogs have mounted a vigorous fight to trip up Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but their efforts have failed to get serious traction. The White House and Kavanaugh’s outside supporters are sanguine that his hearings — and ultimately the Senate vote — will go smoothly.
Senators have pored over an estimated 1 million pages of Kavanaugh’s writings, including legal opinions from his tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and emails from his career as a White House attorney and assistant to the prosecutor who investigated former President Bill Clinton and the suicide of Clinton aide Vince Foster.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has called the volume of documents a record for any high court nominee. The Senate vetting of Neil Gorsuch, by contrast, produced about 170,000 pages.
An estimated 287,000-plus pages of documents from his service in the Bush administration have been made public so far, much to the consternation of Democrats,who have charged the GOP with blocking a more transparent assessment of Kavanaugh’s complete record.
Kavanaugh has faced tough questions before. In 2006, it took three years for the Senate to confirm him to the U.S. District Court in Washington. Back then, Democrats took aim at his lack of experience. This time, Republicans have the advantage of his 12 years on the bench and a volume of legal opinions that they say will show him to be a seasoned jurist. Last week, he was endorsed by 41 veteran appellate lawyers, Republicans and Democrats.