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Tuesday, July 10, 2018 1:00 am

Donnelly promises careful look

Republicans give high marks to Kavanaugh pick

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Republicans representing northeast Indiana in Congress commended President Donald Trump for nominating federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh for a pending vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly – whose confirmation vote might help sway both his and Kavanaugh's futures – was not tipping his hand after Trump's nomination announcement Monday night.

“I will take the same approach as I have previously for a Supreme Court vacancy. Following the president's announcement, I will carefully review and consider the record and qualifications of Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” Donnelly said in a statement.

Indiana's Donnelly and Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia reportedly declined invitations to attend Trump's announcement ceremony at the White House.

Donnelly told the Indianapolis Star ahead of the prime-time event that he wanted to first meet the nominee “in a setting where we can discuss his or her experience and perspectives.”

Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin – all up for re-election in November – were the only three Democratic senators who voted last year in favor of confirming Trump's first high-court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, who was approved in a 54-45 vote. Their support for Gorsuch and possibly Kavanaugh could attract moderate GOP voters in what are expected to be tight fall races – but also cost the centrist trio some backing from liberals and progressives opposed to Trump and his judicial nominees.

Republicans appear to have no such conflicts.

Kavanaugh “is a well-respected judge with a strong record of honoring the Constitution and upholding the rule of law,” Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said in a statement shortly after Trump's announcement. “I look forward to conducting a thorough and objective review of Judge Kavanaugh's nomination over the coming weeks.”

Young said in June that he wanted Trump to nominate “a faithful constitutionalist” to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd – who doesn't have a vote on the matter, as it's the Senate job to confirm federal judges – was enthusiastic about Kavanaugh, even though he had endorsed federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a former law professor at the University of Notre Dame, for Kennedy's seat on the high court.

“Brett Kavanaugh will uphold our Constitution, defend the right to life and respect religious liberty. I urge my Senate colleagues to swiftly confirm his nomination,” Banks said in a statement about the judge for the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals and former Kennedy law clerk.

Rep. Jackie Walorksi, R-2nd, said in a statement that Trump “made an excellent choice. Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials and a strong record of defending the Constitution.” She said the Senate “should confirm his nomination without delay.”

bfrancisco@jg.net