Brett Kavanaugh gives Donald Trump new win
Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said Monday night that he holds “no bitterness” over his bruising confirmation battle, speaking at a ceremonial swearing-in at the White House that capped a week of victories for President Trump and gave a major boost to Republicans heading into midterm elections.
“The Senate confirmation process was contentious and emotional,” Justice Kavanaugh told a packed East Room that included all sitting Supreme Court justices. “That process is over. My focus now is to be the best justice I can be. I take this office with gratitude and no bitterness.”
Although the nation’s 114th justice professed no ill will over Democrats’ handling of his nomination, Mr. Trump publicly apologized to him for the “campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception.”
“On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure,” Mr. Trump said. “I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.”
Turning to Justice Kavanaugh’s young daughters seated in the audience, the president said, “Margaret and Liza, your father is a great man. He’s a man of decency, character, kindness and courage who has devoted his life to serving his fellow citizens. And now from the bench of our nation’s highest court, your father will defend the eternal rights and freedoms of all Americans.”
Justice Kavanaugh received the oath from retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom he is replacing on the high court. He said the Senate confirmation process tested him, “but it did not change me.”
“My approach to judging remains the same,” Justice Kavanaugh said. “A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral and impartial decider. A judge must interpret the law, not make the law. My approach to life also remains the same. I will continue to volunteer to serve the least fortunate among us. I will continue to coach, teach and tutor.”
He thanked Mr. Trump for his “unwavering” support.
Also in the audience was his wife, Ashley, whom he called his “rock.”
His official duties on the Supreme Court begin Tuesday, when he will attend oral arguments as the ninth justice, cementing conservatives’ 5-4 majority. He is starting, as promised, with an all-female contingent of law clerks a first for a Supreme Court justice.
The White House ceremony was mainly a celebration and a photo-op after a rancorous confirmation process that will be remembered for Democrats raising unproven sexual assault accusations against Justice Kavanaugh and for his forceful, angry denials. Justice Kavanaugh, 53, was officially sworn in at a private ceremony Saturday after a bitterly divided Senate confirmed him by a 50-48 vote.
The president said the Senate Democrats’ campaign “was a disgraceful situation brought about by people that are evil.”
But the hard-fought result was Mr. Trump’s second successful Supreme Court nomination in less than two years, and it shifts the court in a more conservative direction, likely for decades to come.
“Putting strict constructionists on the court is the single-biggest way you can have a long-term impact on the country,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “I think it’s the single most important thing I’ve done in my career.”
Mr. Trump’s victory on the Supreme Court was his most lasting achievement in a winning streak that any president would envy.
A week ago, Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. had struck a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, fulfilling a central campaign promise to scrap the old pact and forge one more favorable to American workers and manufacturers.
The trade announcement sent the Dow Jones industrial average briefly to a record high last week the 11th record-high closing for the index this year.
On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent in September, the best such figure in 49 years.
In addition, the administration stepped up its confrontational rhetoric against China’s “predatory” economic practices and military aggression, took steps to further isolate Iran diplomatically and announced new U.S. limits on refugee admissions.
The string of victories and fulfilled campaign promises are giving fresh hope to Republicans. The party that holds the White House usually loses seats in Congress in midterm elections.
“The only reason to vote Democrat is if you’re tired of winning,” Mr. Trump told voters last weekend in Kansas. This week, the “energizer” president will hold campaign rallies in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio.
Beyond the tangible results on the economy and control of the Supreme Court, the Kavanaugh confirmation has given a shot of adrenaline to the Republican base. Party leaders fought back against a vocal and organized liberal campaign to defeat the president’s nominee.
Republican leaders are pointing to positive movement in state polls and in campaign fundraising in the 10 days since Justice Kavanaugh forcefully defended himself in a Senate hearing, and since Mr. Trump began to openly question gaps in the account of his nominee’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.
A CBS tracker poll Sunday showed Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee leading her Democratic challenger, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, by 8 percentage points, her biggest lead in the campaign for the state’s U.S. Senate seat.
“We think there’s some evidence that this [Kavanaugh confirmation] is going to be very helpful to us next month,” Mr. McConnell told reporters.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin echoed that sentiment Monday, citing his travels around the country in recent days.
“The Republican base is definitely animated after this,” he said.
The president, told that pop singer Taylor Swift was campaigning for Democrats and against Mrs. Blackburn, responded, “Marsha Blackburn is doing a very good job in Tennessee. She’s leading now substantially, which she should. I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her. Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now.”
Mr. McConnell said Senate Republicans and the White House were determined not to withdraw Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination in the face of opponents’ confrontational protests.
“We were literally under assault,” Mr. McConnell said. “There was a full-scale effort to intimidate. The tactics were very helpful to me in unifying our side. Imagine what withdrawal would have looked like. It would have looked like conceding the allegations.”
He added, “I was always opposed to withdrawal. I did talk to the president after [Ms. Blasey Ford’s testimony]. We both agreed she was very credible. My suggestion was, this was halftime, let’s see what it looks like at the end of the game. After Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony, everybody felt better about him and about our ability to prevail.”
The president said Justice Kavanaugh “toughed it out.”
“We all toughed it out together,” Mr. Trump told a gathering of police chiefs in Orlando, Florida. “I have to thank the Republican senators who fought so hard for this, because it wasn’t easy. A lot of people would have said, ‘Let’s give it up, let’s go a different direction.’ We don’t give up. You don’t give up; we don’t give up.”
He said the Democrats’ tactics in the hearing were “very unfair” to Justice Kavanaugh: “false charges, false accusations, horrible statements that were totally untrue that he knew nothing about.”
Some political observers said Republicans’ ability to confirm Justice Kavanaugh will have far-reaching effects on election law, executive branch power, affirmative action, the Second Amendment and other major issues.
“It is a big achievement for the conservative judicial movement,” Republican strategist Karl Rove said on Fox News Channel. “We will now have a more judicious, more restrained, more modest court. More power will flow to Congress” rather than courts creating law.
Some progressives are calling for Congress to impeach Justice Kavanaugh, presuming that Democrats take control of Congress in the midterm elections. The progressive group Credo Action said Monday that more than 157,000 people had signed its petition urging the House to investigate and impeach the justice.
The president said talk of impeachment on the left will only help Republicans in the elections.
“It’s an insult to the American public,” Mr. Trump said. “I think a lot of Democrats are going to be voting Republican on Nov. 6. They’re thinking about impeaching a brilliant jurist, a man that did nothing wrong, a man that was caught up in a hoax that was set up by the Democrats, using the Democrats’ lawyers.”
Justice Kavanaugh said he will go forward with impartiality despite his treatment.
“The Supreme Court is a team of nine, and I will always be a team player on a team of nine,” he said.