Mock hearings and staged protests: Inside the White House's 'intense' preparations for Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, center. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares for confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh set to begin Sept. 4, the White House has been working to ensure President Trump’s pick is ready for any question.

An official involved in Kavanaugh’s preparations described extensive prep work including hours of mock hearings complete with staged protests.

“As a general matter, it’s been intense,” the official told Yahoo News.

Trump announced Kavanaugh as his pick to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy on July 9. In the weeks since, the official said Kavanaugh has had meetings with 65 senators, including all of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who were willing to speak with him.

“Part of the value of the meetings is to get a sense of what are these senators most interested in … so you get a sense of what you need to prepare for,” the official explained.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh would be the second Supreme Court justice appointed by Trump, following Neil Gorsuch. Kavanaugh’s nomination has faced more opposition from Democrats than Gorsuch because Kennedy was long viewed as a moderate swing vote on the court and Kavanaugh is a conservative. Trump’s various legal issues have added to the opposition since some Democrats have suggested the president would essentially be picking his own judge in potential court cases that could arise, particularly from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Some top Democrats, including members of the Judiciary have declined to meet with Kavanaugh. A tight confirmation is expected with moderate Republicans senators seen as potential swing votes who could block Kavanaugh. Based on Kavanaugh’s meetings on Capitol Hill so far, the official said they are optimistic about his chances.

“My expectation is that he’s got solid support among Republicans. The meetings have gone well, so we feel pretty good about it,” the official said,

Kavanaugh’s preparations involve a robust operation with staffers from the Department of Justice and White House attorneys as well as former clerks of Kavanaugh’s and prominent Washington attorneys who are backing his bid. These staffers and volunteers are helping Kavanaugh with briefing materials and playing the roles of participants in the mock hearings.

On Capitol Hill, former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl is serving as Kavanaugh’s “sherpa” and accompanying him on meetings with lawmakers.

The mock hearings Kavanaugh has participated in over the summer have evolved from less formal topic-based discussions to fully staged dry runs, with Kavanaugh seated at a table facing a panel. These hearings have included “rounds of intense questioning” beyond what Kavanaugh will “likely face” next week, the official said. The staged confirmations have also featured disruptions.

“We’ve run a situation with live protesters and had him respond,” the official said.

The official said Kavanaugh has also prepared by “reviewing dozens of binders of case law” between the meetings and mock hearings that have filled his days.

“In the world of a Supreme Court hearing, the sheer volume of the things you need to be proficient on is dramatic,” the official explained.

A staffer for a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee told Yahoo News, the main lines of questioning Kavanaugh will face from the left side of the aisle are his positions on the Affordable Care Act, Roe vs. Wade, and whether he would recuse himself from potential Trump investigations. The official said they have been prepping Kavanaugh on those topics as well as other areas they believe Democrats may focus on.

“We’ve prepared him for any number of additional lines of questioning, including his views on environmental issues, regulatory agencies, civil rights issues, racial issues, and immigration,” said the official.

Along with readying Kavanaugh, the official said the preparations have also included a “communications aspect” with “background materials” that can be quickly sent to Republican allies in the Senate, conservative groups and the press.

“The most important part is prepping him for what’s coming in the room,” the official said.

_____

More Yahoo News stories on the Supreme Court: