WASHINGTON — Sen. Pat Toomey praised Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday and said he planned to "enthusiastically" vote to confirm the judge, who could cement a conservative majority on the high court.
Toomey hailed Kavanaugh's intellect, experience, and character after a morning sit-down with the judge nominated by President Trump to replace the retiring Anthony M. Kennedy, a frequent swing vote. Toomey, Pennsylvania's lone Republican senator, is the first area lawmaker to meet with Kavanaugh, a federal appeals judge in Washington.
"He understands that the proper role of a judge is to apply the law" based on the text of the Constitution, Toomey told reporters after the meeting. "I fully intend to enthusiastically support his confirmation."
During the meeting in Toomey's Capitol Hill office, the senator said, he asked Kavanaugh about his views of presidential power. He also said they discussed the question of investigations into a president — an issue Kavanaugh could confront if the Supreme Court gets a case involving the ongoing special counsel probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
Kavanaugh "was very, very adamant," Toomey said, and spoke "eloquently and clearly that absolutely no one is above the law — and that includes the president."
Democrats, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, have pointed to Kavanaugh's past statements expressing skepticism about presidential investigations as a reason to oppose his nomination. Booker has argued that the nominee should pledge to recuse himself from any cases involving the special counsel's work, which involves the question of whether Trump or his campaign collaborated with Russia.
Democrats have also warned that Kavanaugh could be a decisive vote in rulings to restrict access to abortion and undercut the Affordable Care Act.
Toomey, who opposes abortion and the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, said that he did not ask the nominee specifically about that decision but that "it's fair to say [Kavanaugh] would give a great deal of weight to precedent."
"Unlike my Democratic colleagues, I don't have a set of policy litmus tests for a judge or justice, precisely because that is not the role of a judge or justice," Toomey said. "It's up to Congress and the president to establish policy."
As the rhetoric has escalated, Booker drew fire from Republicans this week for his comments at a news conference opposing Kavanaugh. In part, Booker said: "In a moral moment, there is no bystanders. You are either complicit in the evil, you are either contributing to the wrong, or you are fighting against it."
Republicans pointed to the word evil as a sign that Democrats were unhinged.
"Our friends on the left are locked in this bizarre competition to wear out the volume knob and outdo each other with this angry nonsense," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Thursday morning.
Booker, who has vowed to fight to block the nomination, sits with Delaware's Sen. Chris Coons on the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving them a frontline role in the process.
No Democrats have met with Kavanaugh — and most have refused to do so while their party leaders press Republicans to turn over numerous documents from the judge's past, including records from his work in the administration of President George W. Bush.
Toomey's Democratic counterpart in Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob Casey, is up for reelection and announced his opposition to any Trump nominee hours before Kavanaugh was selected, citing conservative organizations' influence over the process. Casey, however, has said he would meet with Kavanaugh anyway. A spokesperson said Thursday a meeting has not yet been scheduled.