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Sen. Hirono Wants To Hear What Kavanaugh Has To Say Under Oath

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A senator who will question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is on the line. Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii sits on the Judiciary Committee, which means she gets to speak with him in public, but the Democrat passed up a chance to meet him in private.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

MAZIE HIRONO: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why did you decline a meeting with Brett Kavanaugh?

HIRONO: I made that decision after Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felony counts and Manafort was found guilty of eight criminal counts. And I decided that I did - I choose not to meet with the president's nominee handpicked by The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation. And whatever Judge Kavanaugh needed to say, I wanted to hear under oath in question from us.

INSKEEP: Can I just understand what that had to do with the investigation and the conviction and guilty plea that you mentioned?

HIRONO: I think that one of the main reasons that President Trump nominated Judge Kavanaugh is that Judge Kavanaugh is the only person who actually wrote that a sitting president should be basically free of any criminal or civil investigations or subpoenas. I think that...

INSKEEP: Oh, that's very interesting. He did - he participated in the investigation of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s...

HIRONO: Certainly.

INSKEEP: ...But later felt that that was just - that was going too far...

HIRONO: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...That was distracting a president.

HIRONO: And this president with - under the gun, I'm sure that Judge Kavanaugh's perspective about presidential powers and immunities really were brought to his attention, and I'm sure he thought, well, this would be a really great nominee.

INSKEEP: Let me ask, though, about someone who did meet with Kavanaugh. Susan Collins, your Republican colleague who favors abortion rights, asked Kavanaugh in a private meeting, she says, about Roe versus Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the United States. And she came out of that meeting and said, quote, "Kavanaugh said he agreed with what Justice Roberts said at his nomination hearing in which he said Roe versus Wade is settled law." That is what Kavanaugh has been attributed as saying. Are you reassured?

HIRONO: Not at all because I've been studying Judge Kavanaugh's record and particularly his dissents. And one that, of course, comes to mind is the case of a Jane Doe 17-year-old undocumented young woman who wanted to get an abortion. And the - Judge Kavanaugh's dissent was very strong, and he said he doesn't think that it was an undue burden for her to have to be in the custody of human services and to await the finding of a sponsor that could take her to a point where an abortion was no longer feasible. So he did not think that that was an undue burden on her. And needless to say, the other judges totally disagreed with him. So I think this is an indication of where he wants to go. And in reviewing the judge's cases, he makes decisions very often on where he wants to end up. And he'll cite to cases that may not particularly be dispositive to his viewpoint, but in - but if you look at it, they are not. But, you know, I'd like to find a nominee who I can be assured is going to be fair and objective. And I believe that Judge Kavanaugh will - do not - does not exhibit those kinds of tendencies.

INSKEEP: I think...

HIRONO: He clearly comes down on the side of corporations, on the side of polluters and...

INSKEEP: Very briefly on the...

HIRONO: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Subject of abortion, because you raised that, I think I hear you saying that even if Kavanaugh comes out and says, OK, Roe versus Wade, settled law, not going to go there, you suspect that around the margins he could make rulings or he could be on the side of rulings that would significantly limit abortion rights even if Roe versus Wade were to remain in place.

HIRONO: That's definitely my concern. And in fact, states have passed hundreds and hundreds of laws, states like Texas, to limit a woman's right to abortion and to access abortion. And I believe that even if Roe v. Wade were to be sustained, then all of these kinds of lawsuits would come to the Supreme Court and Justice Kavanaugh will be sitting there and probably going along with all of these states' restrictive laws. And hundreds and hundreds of these kinds of laws have already been enacted. And should he get on the court, I believe that the states will be encouraged to pass even more of these kinds of limiting laws.

INSKEEP: In about 30 seconds, do you think there is any information that you have that has the slightest chance of derailing this nomination? Because Republicans seem behind him, and they've got the majority.

HIRONO: I think that there are fights that are worth fighting. And a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court of a justice that I cannot feel assured is going to protect a woman's right to choose, who will side with polluters over environmental laws, who will go against unions - you know, this is a fight worth fighting, and I'm going to do it. I'm going to use this hearing to point out to the American people the dangers that Judge Kavanaugh poses to our country.

INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much for your time, really appreciate it.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.

INSKEEP: Aloha. Mazie Hirono is a Democratic senator from Hawaii. NPR's Scott Detrow has been with us all morning. He's been listening along. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did you just hear there?

DETROW: I think that last answer from the senator says a lot about just the political realities of this hearing. And that's that unless things go disastrously awry for Kavanaugh during this week's hearings, which is always a theoretical possibility...

INSKEEP: Sure.

DETROW: ...Unless that happens, he is very likely going to be confirmed. You have not seen any Republicans say that they're not going to vote for him. Senator Susan Collins, one of a couple key Republican votes - she's somebody who supports abortion rights - she came out of her meeting with Judge Kavanaugh sounding very positive about him, saying that she liked everything she heard, saying she's going to wait until after the hearing to make up her mind. But all indications are she's likely to vote yes. And another key thing for Republicans is that they'll have another vote soon, when Arizona's governor appoints a senator to fill the seat of Senator John McCain, of 51 votes. And it looks, at the moment, like they'll likely get all 51 for him.

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning that when they get back up to 51, they could lose one, get not a single Democrat and still confirm this justice.

DETROW: Exactly, and remember that Republicans changed the rules in the Senate last year when Justice Gorsuch was confirmed that you only need 50 votes to move forward in that cloture vote. Before, it was 60 votes, and Democrats would have been able to block it. That's not the case this time around.

INSKEEP: OK. So Kavanaugh's favored but an awful lot to discuss, and we expect to hear an awful lot of that discussion. And Scott Detrow will continue being part of our coverage of that. Scott, thanks for coming by.

DETROW: Talk to you tomorrow.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.