'This is war': The fight to impeach Brett Kavanaugh is about to become a defining issue of the 2018 elections - and beyond

Brett KavanaughBrett Kavanaugh.Win McNamee/Getty Images

  • The battle over impeaching Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is beginning.
  • Democrats are split on strategy.
  • Republicans plan on making the push to impeach the new justice a major campaign issue over the next month.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court last weekend after one of the most bitter confirmation battles in US history, setting up the next major political brawl - over his impeachment.

For many Democrats, Kavanaugh's confirmation meant an alleged sexual assailant who appeared to lie before the Senate Judiciary Committee and made highly partisan comments unworthy of a judge was placed on the Supreme Court. For many Republicans, Kavanaugh's confirmation came in spite of what they described as the left's "disgusting" tactics and attempts to ruin his life to prevent him from tipping the balance of the court in conservatives' favor.

Liberals are acting on those feelings by pushing to either impeach the judge or, at least, to further investigate sexual assault claims against him. On the right, prominent politicians and strategists - including President Donald Trump - have highlighted the push to impeach him in hopes that it will further drive GOP turnout at the polls in November.

"I think it's an insult to the American public," Trump told reporters Monday of the push to impeach Kavanaugh.

On the flip side, Democratic leaders have expressed wariness:

  • Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a central figure in the process, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that it's "premature" to push for his impeachment.
  • Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii brushed aside the question on CNN's "State of the Union."
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - the most likely next House speaker if Democrats regain control in November - told members in a memo this weekend that she would file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain and release records regarding the brief FBI investigation and Republican involvement. She did not mention impeachment.

First, another investigation

Democratic Rep. Jerold Nadler of New York, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee - the committee that could begin impeachment proceedings against Kavanaugh - said he is open to investigating allegations of perjury "and other things that haven't been properly looked into before."

Some Democrats have said they are in favor of impeachment if that investigation shows Kavanaugh did perjure himself under oath.

Michael AvenattiMichael Avenatti.Reed Saxon/AP

Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Julie Swetnick - a third Kavanaugh accuser who said he was present at a 1980s party during which she was "gang raped" - told Business Insider on Monday that Democrats need to continue pushing for "a full and complete FBI investigation into the allegations."

"All of the allegations," he said, pointing to his client's allegations not being included in the FBI's recent weeklong investigation. "They should also be demanding full access to all of the communications that took place between the leadership in the Senate and the White House as it related to curtailing the FBI investigation. And if it is ultimately found that Brett Kavanaugh perjured himself, or is more likely than not guilty of committing these acts, then he should be impeached."

Avenatti pointed to a weekend New York Times report saying Trump was dissuaded by White House counsel Donald McGahn from having the FBI conduct a wide-ranging investigation into the allegations because such an investigation could prove "disastrous" for Kavanaugh.

"I found that to be pretty illuminating," Avenatti said. "Because of course that investigation would've included an investigation into my client's allegations."

Avenatti, who has flirted with a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, said he wasn't sure if Democrats should turn impeaching Kavanaugh into a rallying cry on the campaign trail. But Democrats should make it a priority to continue probing him if they regain the House this fall, he said.

Progressives have been much more forward than the party establishment about pushing to impeach the justice as soon as possible. Already, a petition to impeach Kavanaugh has gathered more than 125,000 signatures.

"Brett Kavanaugh is a predator and the American public knows it," Sean McElwee, a progressive activist and cofounder of the progressive think tank Data for Progress, told Business Insider. "His appointment is a lifetime appointment only if progressives give up the fight."

McElwee said progressives who spend millions on Senate seats should be willing to spend "even more on Supreme Court seats."

"Pretend Kavanaugh is up for reelection every day of his life," he said. "Disrupt his life, poll his approval, run ads attacking his record. Dig up opposition research and keep it in the media."

Even if Democrats were to regain the House, impeaching Kavanaugh would be virtually impossible. For him to be kicked off the bench, two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote in favor of doing so. Democrats have no shot of gaining such a Senate majority this fall.

Just 19 federal officials- one senator, one Cabinet secretary, two presidents, and 15 judges- have been impeached in US history. Only eight were convicted and removed by the Senate. The last Supreme Court justice to be impeached was Samuel Chase in 1804, and he was ultimately acquitted by the Senate and remained on the bench.

'Republicans are still angry'

Republicans plan to make Kavanaugh's impeachment a major issue in the closing month of the 2018 campaign while conservative anger over the confirmation process remains hot.

Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former Trump White House official, told Business Insider that "talk of impeaching Kavanaugh is a direct adrenaline shot into the veins of Republican voters."

"Republicans are still angry, they are still angry that this fight happened," said Surabian, who is now an adviser to Donald Trump Jr. "This fight woke up thousands, and probably hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of previously sleepwalking Republicans."

Surabian pointed to the disconnect between establishment Democratic politicians and progressive activists in the impeachment fight, saying the Democratic political class "might know it's bad politically, but you can't control what your base actually wants."

He said the current fury on the left reminded him of the conservative base expecting Obamacare would be repealed after Republicans regained the House in 2010.

Donald Trump JrDonald Trump Jr.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Because Republicans could not make such a repeal happen, some conservatives didn't turn out for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as a result. Surabian said Democrats risk "a similar phenomenon" moving forward.

On the Republican side, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told "Fox News Sunday" he will carry that battle "to the streets" and "the ballot box," saying every Democrat running in swing districts should be asked about impeaching the newest Supreme Court justice.

Trump Jr. summed up the Republican counter-effort in one tweet, saying the "fight" over Kavanaugh "isn't over."

"You better believe that Democrats are going to do everything in their power to impeach Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court if they take control of Congress in November," he said. "This is war. Time to fight. Vote on Nov 6 to protect the Supreme Court!"

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