clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Lindsey Graham wants Trump to nominate Kavanaugh again if the Senate rejects him

Maybe this means Kavanaugh’s nomination is actually in trouble. Or maybe not.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) fiercely defends Brett Kavanaugh at a Senate hearing on his Supreme Court nomination.
Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) doesn’t want to give up on Brett Kavanaugh, even if his Supreme Court confirmation comes up short on the Senate floor. In fact, he’s suggesting that President Donald Trump should nominate Kavanaugh again if that happens.

Senate Republican leaders are promising to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in a matter of days. But there remains a distinct possibility that the judge will not get the necessary votes for his confirmation amid allegations of sexual assault and misconduct from his high school and college years, all of which he has denied.

If you’re looking for tea leaves, Graham — Kavanaugh’s fiercest defender at last week’s Senate hearings — seems to be acknowledging the possibility that Kavanaugh could come up short in the Senate, issuing a statement Tuesday about the possibility the Senate would reject Kavanaugh’s nomination.

But Graham is also proposing an audacious response to a failed Kavanaugh vote: If the Senate rejects the nomination, Graham wants President Trump to nominate Kavanaugh again as a show of strength in the face of what Graham and other Republicans argue are politically motivated attacks on the judge.

“I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court very soon,” Graham said. “However, if his nomination were to fall short, I would encourage President Trump to re-nominate Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It would — in effect — be appealing the Senate’s verdict directly to the American people.”

So rather than nominate a new judge that the Senate could quickly confirm, Graham wants to keep pushing Kavanaugh and take the issue directly to voters in the 2018 midterms.

If that surprises you, it shouldn’t. Republicans genuinely believe that pulling Kavanaugh’s nomination could be an electoral disaster for them, because it would demoralize the hyperpartisan and engaged Republican voters who care a lot about the Supreme Court. There is also a belief that the current fight has energized the conservative base, even the Trump skeptics among them, as GOP leaders rebuke Democrats with claims that they’re politicizing the allegations.

Graham’s proposal lets Republicans keep up the fight, and keep their voters outraged, rather than capitulate — and there is nothing Trump hates more than backing down.

But the first question is whether Kavanaugh’s nomination will fail at all. Three Republican senators — Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — seem to be undecided, to one degree or another. Several Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, most notably — have also not taken a position yet.

If every Democrat votes against Kavanaugh, two Republican senators would need to join them to block his confirmation. For now, we wait for the vote (or for statements announcing their positions.)

But if it comes to that, Graham has painted one way forward for Republicans: keep fighting.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.