Heitkamp has 'wide-ranging' discussion with Kavanaugh, but no decision on Supreme Court pick

BISMARCK -- North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said she didn't come away from her meeting with Judge Brett Kavanaugh Wednesday, Aug. 15, with enough information to say whether she'll support his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp meets with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. Photo provided by Heitkamp's office.

BISMARCK - North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said she didn't come away from her meeting with Judge Brett Kavanaugh Wednesday, Aug. 15, with enough information to say whether she'll support his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an interview late Wednesday afternoon, Heitkamp said they had a "wide-ranging" and "high-level" discussion that lasted about an hour at her office in Washington, D.C. But she'll watch his confirmation hearings in September before making a final call.

"I think that's the true job interview," she said.

Heitkamp said they discussed "the importance of long-standing precedent," Indian law, shielding the court from politics and judicial ethics, among other topics. But she didn't ask Kavanaugh to say how he might rule on particular cases.

"I think it's really important that we do the vetting but we not set unrealistic expectations and ask these people to decide hypotheticals," Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp has faced pressure from both sides of the political spectrum to support or oppose President Donald Trump's nominee to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy amid her re-election bout with Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer. She was one of three Senate Democrats to break ranks and support Trump's first nominee to the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Heitkamp's office has received about 4,000 calls from constituents about the Kavanaugh nomination, roughly 60 percent of which are in his favor, she said.

In a meeting with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's editorial board last week, Heitkamp downplayed the effect her Supreme Court vote could have on her bid for a second term.

"I really don't believe that one vote or the other determines whether people vote for you, as long as you're able to explain why you took the vote you did," she said.

Another red-state Democrat facing re-election, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, also met with Kavanaugh Wednesday. North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven announced his support of Kavanaugh after meeting with him earlier this month.

Cramer took a jab at Heitkamp Tuesday, predicting she will vote for Kavanaugh if his confirmation comes up before the election.

"It's not going to be a big surprise when it happens," he said while accepting an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business.

Cramer dismissed Heitkamp's assertions that she's doing her due diligence because Kavanaugh is not an "unknown quantity." Kavanaugh has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 2006, and he previously worked in the White House during George W. Bush's tenure.

"This is a process and it's a lifetime appointment," Heitkamp said. "I think you need to engage in a way that gives you all the information before you make a final decision."