July 24, 2018

Manchin discusses Supreme Court confirmation at forum | The Logan Banner

Sen. Joe Manchin's vote on a potential U.S. Supreme Court justice could solidify a conservative lean on the highest court, and he's taking feedback.

The ranking state Democrat, who is up for re-election in November, hosted a roundtable discussion with constituents at the West Virginia Lottery Building on Friday to hear questions, concerns and comments on President Donald Trump's second nominee to the court, Brett Kavanaugh.

Manchin, in stride with other Senate Democrats, has framed the confirmation decision around the Affordable Care Act, and how Kavanaugh might rule on a legal challenge to the law the Republican Party has sought to dismantle since its initial passage eight years ago.

One lawsuit is working its way through the court now, which argues the ACA is unconstitutional given the repeal of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance that came with the GOP tax reform package. Manchin's opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, signed West Virginia on to that lawsuit. Manchin said, if the lawsuit wins out, people with pre-existing conditions will lose certain legal protections the ACA provided.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in an unusual move, has sided with Morrisey and 19 other state attorneys general against the law. In response, Manchin wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging him to reverse the DOJ's position and defend the ACA.

While court nominees can be coy regarding how they might adjudicate a case down the line, Manchin said in an interview after the forum that he wants answers.

"I'm still going to press the issue," he said of Kavanaugh's take on legal protections in insurance markets for people with pre-existing conditions. "I want him to know - he will definitely know the effect a decision on pre-existing conditions could have on my state, I guarantee on many states."

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health care research nonprofit group, 36 percent of West Virginians have pre-existing conditions, leaving them vulnerable if the lawsuit successfully knocks down protections for the population.

A smorgasbord of different associations and organizations across the political spectrum surrounded Manchin - who proudly identifies himself as a centrist - at the event. Groups representing labor and commerce, pro-choice and anti-abortion groups, and other yin-and-yang matchups requested that Manchin and his staff look into Kavanaugh's jurisprudence and public statements on issues like labor, women's reproductive health, the limits of presidential power, LGBTQ workplace protection and hate crimes, and others.

Along with the roundtable, Manchin has said he's taking feedback via email at an account - scotus@Manchin.senate.gov - he set up through his Senate office.

Republicans wield a 51-49 majority over senators who caucus with the Democrats, but the whip count is trickier. Manchin, as did two other Democratic senators from states that backed Trump in 2016, voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017. Even if the whole Democratic caucus can stick together, two Republicans would need to cross over to beat a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.

Despite the thin margins, Manchin said he's not sweating any political pressure from the caucus - leadership or rank and file. He said it will all come down to what works for West Virginia.

"If I can come home and explain it, I vote for it. If I can't explain it, I don't vote for it," he said.

Although a confirmation vote will likely arrive before the midterms, Morrisey has announced his backing of Kavanaugh, underscoring the political weight of Manchin's choice. In a news release, he challenged Manchin to a debate on "Supreme Court issues," which the senator brushed aside.

"Patrick, you're the attorney general, I'm the U.S. senator," he said when asked about the debate. "I'm doing my job. My job is not to make this political."

Manchin said he is scheduled to meet with Kavanaugh within the next two weeks.

By:  Jake Zuckerman