WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders, lining up behind nominee Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, denounced the court’s next justice on Monday night in the face of a sombre news conference by the judge’s former chief justice, John Roberts.
Trump, hearing Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, immediately asked for a recess. Roberts did so, and Kavanaugh made his mark on the nominations process: He clerked for him.
“It’s very sad to see a judge like John Roberts pass,” he said. “I wish the Senate had not done what it did.”
Roberts, who stepped down last year, noted that the same candidates on the bench were unanimously confirmed for three centuries.
“So therefore we wait a little bit longer for confirmation,” Roberts told a news conference, which generated ripples of anger among partisans.
Barack Obama, in his first term as president, asked for a delay. In his second term, he asked for a delay. In his third term, he asked for a delay.
Trump has called for a complete recess in the nomination process.
“One of the great things about America is our system of checks and balances,” said acting Senate Majority Leader Jim Risch, R-Idaho.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said the court vacancy “has created a feeling across America that the country is running out of justices.”
“I hope it remains here until the next president gets in office, and that we make an appointment,” Franken said.
Roberts, who took two decades away from the bench during his service as chief justice, died Monday after a long battle with cancer. John Paul Stevens, the court’s last conservative chief justice, will step down at the end of the term and be succeeded by Justice Samuel Alito.
Briefing the Senate and the briefing to reporters, Biden said, “The American people are standing with Judge Kavanaugh. He is a great man. Justice Roberts has been a superb justice. I am confident Judge Kavanaugh will do a wonderful job.”
“You don’t want to jump into a fight that’s just starting because the fight is already beginning. You want to finish,” Biden said.
Kavanaugh served for 33 years at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the bench he was born on.
The confirmation fight will run through election year, barring action by the Senate, where Republicans need a 58-42 vote to overcome Democratic filibusters and name Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Yet already the president appears poised to reject President Barack Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland, to fill the seat.
The Senate has approved Garland nearly unanimously on a party-line vote of 55-45. Trump has yet to nominate a replacement, and Senate Democrats are in a tough fight to retain the seat they took in 2014 from Republicans, who had held it since the late Senate Majority Leader Edward Kennedy died in 2009.
Democrats uniformly opposed Republicans’ 2012 nomination of Judge Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, saying she had presided over political cases rather than expertise.
Kagan won confirmation easily despite a Supreme Court Justice Department report that said she expressed disdain for some of the most important legal issues raised by the Bush administration in her four years as solicitor general.
Ana Navarro, a member of Trump’s presidential transition team, tweeted that she hoped “we can appoint Judge Kavanaugh without delays.”
Trump tweeted his confidence in Kavanaugh’s ability to provide independence from political Washington.
In an interview with The Associated Press over the weekend, Kavanaugh brushed off those who said his confirmation hearings could inject uncertainty into the job.
“This has been an extraordinary year,” he said. “It’s really beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”
In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Trump indicated that he preferred that the Senate delay any vote but was willing to allow a confirmation process for a nominee with his service as a lawyer at the Justice Department.
“It just seems to me that way,” Trump said. “I’m going to let it be looked at, and I’ve asked that, and I’m willing to accept that if it’s in the best interest of the nation.”
Kavanaugh faces a series of ethics questions and accusations that he could impose an even more extreme agenda on courts than past Supreme Court nominees. In advance of his confirmation, he has criticized his critics as “radical” and “ideological” opponents.
And he is surrounded by judges and attorneys he has praised on the bench, saying they would be less activist and more able to interpret the law.
As a candidate, Trump advocated for more protection of abortion rights. The 2016 Republican Party platform called for such protections as a fetus be considered “an individual human being,” and drew bipartisan applause at a Republican National Committee meeting in March by promoting those values.