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Kavanaugh Nomination Advances to Final Floor Vote; Kavanaugh Confirmation Votes Are Having Impact on Midterms; Will Confirmation Fight Impact Kavanaugh & Supreme Court; Tense Protests Outside Susan Collin's Office in Maine. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 5, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, no question. The president was watching that vote in the Senate. He's not, you know, necessarily a lover of the Senate or of procedural votes but that was a dramatic moment. He was watching it, I'm told, from the residence of the White House. The vice president was in his own office at the White House watching as well. He could have gone up to Capitol Hill at any moment to be a deciding vote, but that was not needed this time around.

At this point, the people I'm talking to here, who are speaking to the president, they believe he is confident that the confirmation will happen eventually. They're not certain of that because they do not know how Susan Collins, Senator Collins, is going to vote, and how she's going to explain her decision this afternoon. So there's as much uncertainty here as there has been throughout.

And the president largely is a bystander at this point in the process. He's not saying much. Of course, he had a lot to say earlier in the week at the Mississippi campaign rally when he was mocking Christine Blasey Ford. He's not repeated that since then. That, of course, was not helpful at all to some Senators and how they voted.

If Senator Murkowski ends up staying the same and voting against this, it will be interesting to note if the president influenced that or not. We don't know the answer to that.

We do know, Kate, the president intends to use the outcome of this either way in the midterm election fight. Just a few moments ago, the Trump re-election campaign sent out an e-mail urging their supporters to call the Senate, to use this in their midterm election fight. So we'll see how this plays out here.

But it's clear the vice president is not going to be far away this weekend. He will be in Washington, we're told, if he's needed to break that tie on the confirmation hearing. But uncertainty here, but optimism as well mixed in with that -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president is a bystander, not a role I'm sure he enjoys, as we have all well learned.

Thank you, Jeff, very much.

ZELENY: Sure. BOLDUAN: So the country now watches and waits for the big announcement from Senator Susan Collins and also from Senator Joe Manchin later today. No matter how and what their decision is on how they will vote, the Kavanaugh confirmation already having an impact on the midterm elections. You heard what Jeff just said.

Let's discuss more. CNN political commentator, former communications director for the Republican committee, Doug Heye, is here. And CNN political commentator and former White House press secretary for President Clinton, Joe Lockhart, is here as well.

Very important day. And I appreciate you be here with me on this.

When it comes to Susan Collins, Doug, what are the pressures on her right now? I wonder what is going to change between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. when she makes her announcement. Why the wait?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We saw some of the pressures with Sunlen in front of her office. There's intense pressure she's hearing, unprecedented phone calls from her state, from the White House, from Senate leadership. And so often, in politics, we talk about this being a game of chess or even three-dimensional chess. This is good old-fashioned checkers right now. Republicans trying to make sure she's a yes. Democrats trying to make sure they don't lose Joe Manchin and have him flip as well. And we'll see a lot of long statements about --


BOLDUAN: Do you -- that's so true.

Do you assume it can change between her voting yes on the procedural vote and in 3:00 p.m. when she announces? Or do you think it's decided she just hasn't announced?

HEYE: We don't know. If you look at what John McCain did with the health care vote, he voted yes on the procedural, and very dramatically gave the thumbs down. This whole process has been an ugly one but it's also about moments. We know at 3:00 p.m., we'll have another moment that we're all going to be watching.

BOLDUAN: For Manchin or for Democrats, right now, what can Democrats do at this point, Joe?

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They can't do very much. I mean, they're on the sidelines, just like President Trump is on the sidelines, because unless they can influence Manchin. You know, everyone has their own political dynamic. Take Susan Collins, knows for a fact that if she votes against Kavanaugh, she's going to have a very, very tough race. Maine has become a state that's become more purple, more progressive over the years. But if she votes against him, she's going to have a primary. There's just no doubt, because the Republicans in Maine, the remaining Republicans, are very, very conservative. Lisa Murkowski, the same issue. She would have a lot of trouble given indigenous Alaskans, the voting bloc that is important to her. Manchin, the same problem. So they all have their own individual problems. So I think what you have seen -- and we're going to find out exactly once it's all done -- is there's been some choreography between them. If you do this -- between the four undecided.



LOCKHART: They have been talking, and if you do this, I will do that. We're going to unravel this at 3:00 this afternoon, when Susan Collins -- Susan Collins may have decided she's going all in on Kavanaugh and wanted to do it in a dramatic so she could go back home and say, I was the vote. Or she may, knowing where Manchin is, and knowing that the vice president will break a tie --

[11:35:00] BOLDUAN: Right.

LOCKHART -- come out and say to her progressives and the moderates in her state, I voted against him, knowing that her party already had it in the bag. You know, we don't know for sure, but every indication --


BOLDUAN: You can do the math a bunch of different ways.

LOCKHART: If you can -- exactly.

BOLDUAN: If Manchin is a yes, then Collins can be a no.

LOCKHART: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Pence could break a tie.

LOCKHART: I think the indication that Republicans were confident on this and that McConnell is confident is Murkowski's no. The fact that, I don't know this for sure --


LOCKHART: -- but I image at some point --

BOLDUAN: You wouldn't be surprised if he was not surprised.

LOCKHART: At some point in the last 12 hours, she was told, you're released. Vote your conscience or vote your political --


BOLDUAN: It makes it a lot less dramatic when you lay it out that way.

Speaking of the impact on the midterm election, we're already seeing - you saw Trump's reelection putting out something already. You also have on a very real level, Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate, Phil Bredesen, is running against Marsha Blackburn for Bob Corker's seat. Tight race. He's a Democrat. He comes out with a statement just this morning and says, I'm a yes, I would be a yes on Brett Kavanaugh. Trump won Tennessee by 26 points. Trump won West Virginia, Manchin's state, by 42 points. This is a real impact already. What does this tell you?

HEYE: I was in Nashville, a few weeks ago, and what I heard so often from Republicans was that like Bredesen. They liked him as a governor, thought he was a good conservative governor, but they were voting for Marsha Blackburn because -- these were their words -- he was wishy-washy on whether he could say yes or no on something that's a huge thing you do in the Senate --


HEYE: Your job as a Senator, judge is the number one thing you do. This has held him back. He's put out a long statement with all kinds of qualifications. Every one comes down to you're either yes or no. There's no gray here.

BOLDUAN: If you assume Kavanaugh gets confirmed, and then you take in addition to jobs report today, 3.7 percent unemployment, lowest in 49 years, I venture to guess that is not the recipe for success that Democrats would have cooked up if they could, 30-plus days out from the midterms.

LOCKHART: I'm not sure I agree, particularly with the first point.

BOLDUAN: Tell me.

LOCKHART: Because Democrats, this is going to energize -- it already has energized the Democratic base. Even if the Republican base is energized, there's way more anti-Trump sentiment in the country than pro-Trump. Can you imagine a president with 3.7 percent unemployment who can barely get above 40 percent job approval? That means you're either a spectacularly bad politician or you have some character issues. I'll go with number two here on the president. So I think this does not -- is not a setback for the midterms for Democrats. I think Kavanaugh getting through probably is a plus, you know, just politically. But --


BOLDUAN: Politics is counter, right? You vote when you're angry. You turn out when you're mad.

LOCKHART: Yes. And I think particularly women. And if you want to look at the House, the races that matter are suburban and urban, where women turning out will make the difference. It's hard to see today and tomorrow as a negative for Democrats. It is a negative for the country for a long time, given what's going to happen in the Supreme Court and the politization of it, but in the short term, I don't think it's a negative.

BOLDUAN: Do you think the impact, the midterm impact can carry on? I mean, the attention span is so short these days of what the driving issue is. It keeps coming back to, when you look at polls, health care, and that's not necessarily the headline all the time. Do you think though this breaks through and this becomes a driving issue in the midterms for Republicans?

HEYE: It can, for the first time Republicans are able to be on the offense on something. They have something -- they use the word anger, Republican voters are angry. They're angry at what they see has been an unfair process for Judge Kavanaugh.


HEYE: So they're reacting to that. That's the first time in two years where you had Republicans politically have something they can try to advance on the elections. They have been on the receiving end for a year and a half now. They finally have something. What we don't know, is this a cotton-candy sugar high or is this sustainable. That's the unknown and that's what we'll find out in the coming weeks.

LOCKHART: I think all you have to do is go back to the last election. Three weeks before the election or so when the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, and everybody said, it's over. And we had two more twists before it was over. We had --


BOLDUAN: We had about 17 twists in the last week, in this confirmation.

LOCKHART: Yes. We had WikiLeaks and then the Comey letter. So there's a lifetime for voters who are just tuning in now. And you know, it's like, you know, I hate to use a football metaphor, but whoever has the football last wins in the sense --


BOLDUAN: Football metaphors work for you, Joe.



BOLDUAN: And if anyone has been paying attention at all this week, it feels like it's been a lifetime just this week. So let us see.

Great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

LOCKHART: Thank you.

[11:39:58] We're going to keep our eye there on the Senate floor. Senator John Cornyn there. If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, what kind of justice will he be? And how will this contentious, bitter confirmation process, how will it change the Supreme Court? And does it already change him and how he approaches the cases?

We'll be right back.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [11:45:00] SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D), ILLINOIS: It was clear, however, that despite this testimony, even despite this hearing, many Republicans had made up their mind, as the majority leader characterized it, to plow right through regardless of Dr. Ford's testimony. We hear so many tributes to Dr. Ford now from the Republican side out of one side of their mouth and then they turn around and say it's a smear. A smear is a lie. I don't believe she was lying. They can't praise her on one hand and call her --


BOLDUAN: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin on the Senate floor where that very big moment played out a little while ago, as they moved forward to a final vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And wow, the final vote is very much still in doubt. Today's procedural vote puts Brett Kavanaugh one step closer to the high court.

But if Kavanaugh is confirmed, what kind of justice will he be and how will the knockdown, drag-out fight of this process impact him and impact the court?

Joining me right now to discuss, CNN legal analyst, Jennifer Rodgers, and CNN Supreme Court analyst, Joan Biskupic.

Jennifer, do you think -- we move forward if he is confirmed, assuming he is confirmed. But do you think he enters the court with an asterisk, with a cloud over his head, or do you think, once confirmed, it moves forward.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he largely moves forward. I think the public, though, will think less highly of the court. The court as an institution has been damaged in the public view. Usually their approval ratings are much higher than the Congress and the president. But here, they've really taken a hit, I think, because he was so, so partisan last week in the testimony. It shows people that it's not just all about the facts in front of you and the law. There are partisan bases to some of these decisions and it's been thrust out in the open.

BOLDUAN: Joan, how do you think Chief Justice Roberts views this and is watching this? He's the chief justice. He remains very quiet. But he's also human and he's been seeing how this plays out. If Brett Kavanaugh enters the court with an asterisk with the way the public feels, is that a big concern of his?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Two things, Kate. Two things, and they work in two different directions. The first, as you mentioned, Kate, the integrity of the court is very important to Chief Justice Roberts. Even before this confirmation hearing, he had said things about how a very divisive political confirmation process can lead the public to believe that the justice who emerges from that is very political himself or herself. So he has been talking about these concerns for a while. And I am sure this whole ordeal has really troubled him. But then from a personal point of view, Kate, he has known Brett

Kavanaugh since the early 1990s. He has worked with him. I'm sure he has had respect for him. And you know, when Brett Kavanaugh wrote that "Wall Street Journal" op-ed that said, think of me, my whole career, he was speaking to fellow justices, too. And I don't think Chief Justice John Roberts will admonish him in any way on this. I don't think he will speak of it. I think they all will try to close ranks, if he's confirmed tomorrow, close ranks and go on with business as usual.

BOLDUAN: Jennifer, in that "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece that he penned yesterday, Brett Kavanaugh made the case that he will be an independent justice. Take a look -- look at my career, and he made some statements about he had gone - he said some things he probably shouldn't have, is what he said. But you don't see a mea culpa or an apology. What do you think it was?

RODGERS: I don't know exactly what it was. It certainly was not an apology. It was last-ditch effort to say, listen, I can be fair. The problem is you have to put that up against this behavior last week in the hearings. Anyone who says the Democrats are trying to smear me, it's all about the Clintons, and by the way, what comes around goes around, says to me that he's going to hold that against Democrats when he's on the court. That's essentially what he's saying. That's a real problem, not just for the issues that are partisan to begin with, like abortion and the like, but for things like gerrymandering, political drawing of districts, which are actually partisan --


RODGERS: -- I mean, the parties in those cases are actually the political parties.

BOLDUAN: Take a look at any map. You'll see how partisan it is.

RODGERS: So for him to say, the Democrats did this to me, and by the way, it's coming back at you, when he's doing to be hearing those sorts of cases, is really troubling.

BOLDUAN: And speaking of, as Jennifer put it, his behavior in the hearing last week, someone else who took quite -- paid a lot of attention to it is former justice, John Paul Stevens.

Joan, I want to play -- he was speaking to the "Palm Beach Post "reporter. And I actually interviewed the reporter last night. I want to play for our viewers what Justice Stevens had said about Brett Kavanaugh. Listen to this.


[11:50:05] JOHN PAUL STEVENS, FORMER U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I have changed my views for reasons that have really no relationship to his intellectual ability or his record as a federal judge. He's a fine federal judge. And he should have been confirmed when he was a nominee. But I think his performance during the hearings caused me to change my mind. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Justice Stevens thought that the hearings were really the whole ballgame. What did you think when you saw Justice Stevens speaking out, Joan?

BISKUPIC: That immediately, last Thursday night, was at the forefront. People wondering, how can someone who appeared like such a partisan warrior set that aside when the time comes. That was a very serious observation by retired justice, John Paul Stevens. I thought he was being very honest. And I think the op-ed that Brett Kavanaugh had written was not just to the crucial Senators at the center of this whole dispute, but also to judicial colleagues --


BISKUPIC: -- like retired Justice Stevens. Yes.

BOLDUAN: That's a fascinating perspective I have not actually heard in terms of the op-ed, Joan.

With all that was in mind, I do wonder what that means in terms of what a Justice Kavanaugh will be like on the bench. Do you think this experience -- it would be -- especially how he reacted, it would hard to think this experience has not impacted him. Albeit, he said differently. Does he dig in on the far right so offended by how he said he believes he was treated by Democrats or does he try to prove critics wrong and position himself somehow as a moderate swing vote on the bench?

BISKUPIC: I think, first of all, Kate, he will still be a reliable conservative for the right wing of the court and for President Trump. I don't think he is going to change his ideology at all through this ordeal. But I bet we see him writing language into his opinions, perhaps giving speeches that sound a little bit more conciliatory and a little bit more of an effort to heal the divisions. Everything I know about his background and how he worked with colleagues before is he does not want to be seen exactly as he was seen last Thursday, as a fire brand and a warrior. He wants to be seen as a careful, neutral justice. I don't think you will see him move to the left wing in any way. You will not see him vote the way Anthony Kennedy voted. But he is going to try to write language and give speeches that temper the impression so much of America has of him now.

BOLDUAN: We will definitely be reading those opinions when they come down, very closely.


BOLDUAN: But first steps, first.

We are keeping our eye -- thank you both very much.

But first things, first, we are keeping our eye on the Senate floor as they will be moving forward towards a final vote on Brett Kavanaugh that will be coming up tomorrow. But still, as all of Washington waits for what Susan Collins does

next, protesters are gathering in her home state. What is their message to the Senator, who has so much pressure on her shoulders right now? We will take you there live.


[11:58:21] BOLDUAN: All eyes are on the Senate as Brett Kavanaugh's nomination hangs in the balance. And it may come down to a single vote, Republican Senator Susan Collins. Collins said she will be announcing how she will vote in the final confirmation later this afternoon. The vote expected tomorrow.

Before then, intense pressure has been mounting outside her office on the capitol but also back in her home state. Protests for days.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Maine near Senator Collins' office.

Polo, what are you hearing from voters?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you said here, Kate, all eyes across the country are on the Senate. As for people here, particularly in Portland, Maine, their eyes are on Senator Collins. People are watching and waiting for her official announcement that's expected to come in about three hours or so where she will confirm what she will vote regarding Judge Kavanaugh.

I have seen reaction from this morning's procedural vote. Many people have expressed disappointment. They are not surprised by her yes vote, but, at the same time, they are hopeful she will vote differently for the vote that counts here.

It is obviously a high-stakes game here regardless of which way she votes. A heavy political price. The question people here are asking, will she vote yes, pleasing some of her GOP colleagues in Washington or perhaps vote no, pleasing bipartisan support here.

In this part of Maine, she counts on some heavy support from Democrats, the Republican Senator does, because of her position on several issues, including women's rights and health care as well -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: The pressure is intense and mounting.

Polo, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Thank you all so much for joining us on this momentous day.

Dana Bash and "INSIDE POLITICS" starts right now.