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Kavanaugh Day 2 Recap


Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh returns to Capitol Hill today. His first round of questioning yesterday lasted more than 13 hours, with plenty of debate, multiple interruptions from protesters. So what did lawmakers actually learn in this high-stakes job interview? Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Nobody really disputes that Kavanaugh, if confirmed, will tip the Supreme Court in a decidedly hard-right direction. Nonetheless, the Democrats had a hard time getting answers that would prove that. While Senators posed questions on a variety of issues, abortion was the focus more than any other single issue, and in particular, Kavanagh's dissenting opinion this year when the court that he serves on ordered the Trump administration to release a pregnant 17-year-old girl for an abortion paid for by a third-party organization. The girl was by then 15 weeks pregnant, and a Texas court had already ruled that she was mature enough to make the decision. Kavanaugh, however, said the government should be given more time.


BRETT KAVANAUGH: The government argued that it was proper or appropriate to transfer her quickly first to an immigration sponsor.

TOTENBERG: Meaning a family member or friend who could counsel the girl. Kavanaugh thought that was a reasonable requirement as long as the government acted quickly. And he noted that the Supreme Court has approved parental consent laws for minors as long as a so-called judicial bypass is available. At that, Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii could barely contain her contempt.


MAZIE HIRONO: You can't just require parental consent, as in this case, where her parents were beating her up. How can you expect parental consent in a situation like that? So...

KAVANAUGH: That would be a situation for the bypass.


KAVANAUGH: This was just an analogy for a woman who was a minor - that's critical - who was in a immigration facility by herself in the United States. And had...

HIRONO: She had already gotten a judicial bypass. There was no issue of parental consent, and in this case, you would have substituted a foster family for parental consent. That's not even an issue.

TOTENBERG: Democrat Richard Blumenthal sought to link Kavanaugh's opinion in the case to the nominee's nomination. Noting that Kavanaugh had not been on either of President Trump's first two lists of potential Supreme Court nominees during the campaign, Blumenthal, in essence, suggested that the abortion opinion had been an audition for the job.


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: What occurred then, between May of 2016 and November of 2017, besides your Garza dissent that put you on that list?

KAVANAUGH: Well, Mr. McGahn was White House counsel, and the president had taken office by then. What else happened, I...

BLUMENTHAL: It's a mystery.

TOTENBERG: For all the Democrats' bluster, though, Kavanaugh remained generally unperturbed until California's Kamala Harris repeatedly asked him some form of this question about an unnamed person at the law firm of Kasowitz, Benson & Torres, which represented President Trump until partner Marc Kasowitz resigned as Trump's counsel last year.


KAMALA HARRIS: Did you speak with anyone at that law firm about Bob Mueller's investigation?

KAVANAUGH: I'm not remembering anything like that, but I want to know a roster of people, and I want to know more.

HARRIS: So you're not denying that you spoke with him?

KAVANAUGH: I said, I don't remember anything like that.

HARRIS: OK. I'll move on.

TOTENBERG: Harris spent 5 1/2 minutes asking the same question over and over trying to get an answer, and she looked for all the world like she had new information to bring to the table. Then suddenly, she stopped, saying she would pursue the matter later, leaving a cliffhanger for today. Or maybe she doesn't have the goods, so stay tuned.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.