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story.lead_photo.caption Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right, meets with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a round of meetings with key Republican senators as Democrats ramped up efforts to block his confirmation.

Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge and President Donald Trump's choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, planned to meet separately with at least five members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel will begin confirmation hearings later this summer.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the Yale-educated judge "a very fine man" and told reporters that he expects Kavanaugh's confirmation process to go well.

"There will be the usual attempts to sully his reputation, not only in the Senate but outside the Senate. But he'll be able to handle it, and I have every confidence he'll be confirmed," Hatch said.

But Kavanaugh has an unusually long paper trail for senators to review, including judicial rulings and documents from his tenure in the George W. Bush administration and on Kenneth Starr's investigation of former President Bill Clinton. Aides say it could take weeks to assemble those materials.

Democrats, as the Senate minority, have few options to block Kavanaugh. But they are trying to use the time to make the case that confirming Kavanaugh will tilt the court too far to the right. They warn that Kavanaugh could be part of decisions that roll back women's access to abortion and undo aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Democrats also are raising red flags over Kavanaugh's past writing that suggests investigations of sitting presidents are a distraction to executive branch leadership. They see that as concerning amid special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Russia had ties to the Trump campaign.

"The American people should have their eyes wide open to these stakes," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

No date has been set for confirmation hearings. But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who also met with Kavanaugh on Wednesday, said he was hopeful the committee could begin its work during the final week of August.

Republicans want to have Kavanaugh confirmed by the start of the court's session in October and before the midterm election.

Cornyn acknowledged that Trump's choice of the judge was "a little bit of a calculated risk ... because Judge Kavanaugh has the longest paper trail" of any potential nominee. Kavanaugh was first confirmed to the appellate court in 2006.

On the other hand, Cornyn said, Trump should be congratulated for nominating someone whose record is so long that "people can evaluate on their own, fairly."

Because Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority, narrowed further by the absence of Sen. John McCain of Arizona as he's treated for cancer, almost every vote matters. Several key senators -- two or three Republicans and a half-dozen Democrats -- are facing intense pressure over their votes.

Republicans are pushing for a bipartisan showing of support for Kavanaugh by trying to peel off Democrats who are up for re-election from states that Trump won in the 2016 election. That group includes Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who all voted for Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, last year.

But so far, Democrats are holding back. They view the uphill battle against Kavanaugh as similar to their successful fight last summer to preserve the Affordable Care Act from a Republican repeal effort.

As part of that strategy, Democrats are focusing on Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who both helped doom the repeal of the health care law.

Democrats warn that with GOP-backed lawsuits to unravel the Affordable Care Act headed to the court, Americans are again facing the threat of losing protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The two GOP senators also support access to abortion services.

"We won this battle in the light of day last year," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "We need the American people to weigh in."

While Kavanaugh was meeting with senators, environmental groups slammed his record on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which handles many regulatory cases. Activists said he represents a threat to bedrock environmental laws that protect clean air and water and endangered species.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, the nation's largest environmental group, said Kavanaugh "continually and reliably sides with corporate polluters and the wealthy over the public's right to breathe clean air and drink clean water."

Brune and other critics cited a 2014 opinion in which Kavanaugh argued that the Environmental Protection Agency must take monetary costs into consideration when deciding whether to regulate mercury and other pollutants from power plants.

The court majority agreed with the EPA that it did not have to consider such costs in protecting health and safety.

A Section on 07/12/2018

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