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Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin Meets With Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh


Before today, no Senate Democrats had met with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other leaders say they will not sit down with him until Republicans release extensive records about Kavanaugh's time in the Bush White House. But this afternoon, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin went ahead and met with Trump's pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. NPR's Kelsey Snell is with us now to tell us about that meeting. Hey, Kelsey.


CHANG: So why is Manchin breaking with party leaders on this issue?

SNELL: Well, we've talked about this a lot. Manchin is one of those most-vulnerable Democrats in the country. He's also one of the three Democrats who voted for Neil Gorsuch last year.

CHANG: That's right.

SNELL: So he is under a huge microscope here. And this was a really long meeting, much, much longer than we expected, actually. Manchin and Kavanaugh met for more than two hours. And that's sort of out of the...


SNELL: Yeah. That's out of the norm.


SNELL: You know, and this is maybe not going to be his only meeting with Kavanaugh. Part of the reason is that his state, West Virginia, overwhelmingly voted for President Trump in 2016. And he's trying to walk a really fine line between being a Democrat with an independent reputation who kind of appeals to independents and a guy who can still satisfy those people who vote with the Democratic base.

Now, it's important to remember he's the first one to take a meeting, but he's not expected to be the last. I've spoken with several other Democrats in tight races, and most of them told me they will meet with Kavanaugh eventually.

CHANG: Do you have a sense of what undecided Democrats like Manchin and other moderate Democrats are looking for when they talk to Kavanaugh? I mean, what will it take to get their vote?

SNELL: Yeah, Manchin released a statement after his meeting saying that he discussed Kavanaugh's experience and record and major policy issues like health care. Manchin's been holding meetings as even polling constituents on Twitter about what they want to know from Kavanaugh. And I'm told that Manchin spent about the first 20 minutes of that meeting asking questions from that pool. So he says he's going to keep doing that - keep going back to constituents to see what it is they're concerned about. And he says he thinks it's irresponsible to announce a position ahead of time because he wants to give this nominee a fair shot.

He plans to repeat the deliberation process he used last year when vetting Neil Gorsuch. At the time, he waited until about a week before the final vote on the Gorsuch nomination to announce his support, and that was after meeting with him twice as a nominee and going to most of the hearings and sitting in and kind of vetting him in many other ways. Manchin eventually said he voted yes because he was convinced that Gorsuch reached legal opinions based on reason, not his own personal beliefs. So that's his person strategy for getting to know a nominee.

CHANG: And how does that strategy then fit in with the strategy of party leaders...

SNELL: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Like Chuck Schumer who have been refusing to meet with Kavanaugh?

SNELL: I'm told by most Democrats that they don't feel like Schumer is pressuring them to follow his lead, but leaders plan to force Republicans to go on the record first. They hope they can convince moderate senators like Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins to vote no to protect the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights since they both support those issues. And while that seems like a long shot because neither has made a commitment - but they're still saying positive things about Kavanaugh. The other option is to force Republicans to come up with the 50 votes they need all on their own. So that's what we're watching right now.

CHANG: We'll see if that happens. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.