US Senate leader hails Brett Kavanaugh vote as 'proudest moment'

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US President Donald Trump takes a victory lap in Kansas just hours after the Republican-controlled US Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a news conference following the confirmation vote of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, on Oct 6, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States Senate leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday (Oct 7) hailed the confirmation of divisive judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as his "proudest moment" in the upper house as the warring Republicans and Democrats turned their focus to the crucial midterm elections.

Mr Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court last Saturday (Oct 6) by a razor-thin margin in the Senate, ending months of partisan rancor over his nomination and offering President Donald Trump one of the biggest victories of his presidency.

"I'm proud of my colleagues, this is an important day for the United States Senate," Mr McConnell told political magazine show Fox News Sunday.

Asked if it was his proudest moment since he first entered the Senate in 1984, the 76-year-old replied: "I think so. I think the most important thing the Senate is involved in is the personnel business.

"Of the various 1,200 appointments who come to us for confirmation, obviously the most important are the lifetime appointments to the courts and we prioritise handling President Trump's outstanding nominees for the Supreme Court."

Mr Kavanaugh was sworn in shortly after the Senate voted 50-48 in his favour - a move that cemented the Supreme Court's shift to the right under the Republican leader, who has chosen two of the nine sitting justices.

Protesters rallied in Washington and other US cities against the ascent of the 53-year-old jurist, who has faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and been criticised for his angry partisan rhetoric.

The prolonged nomination battle has roiled American politics, disrupting the status quo on Capitol Hill and firing up both Republicans and opposition Democrats a month before the midterms.

"The mob descended on Capitol Hill and tried to intimidate our members into opposing this good man's nomination. We stood up to the mob," Mr McConnell said, rejecting the notion that the process had "broken" the Senate.

Mr Trump told a raucous rally in Kansas late last Saturday that the confirmation marked "a tremendous victory for our nation, our people and our beloved Constitution".

Kavanaugh 'on the ballot'

But the bitter fight over Mr Kavanaugh's confirmation appears to have deepened the fissures separating Congress as lawmakers and their supporters prepare to head out on the campaign trail.

Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, said on Sunday that Mr Kavanaugh would be sitting on the court "with a huge taint after his name. The partisanship he showed was astounding". Both sides claimed that the brutal political battle over Mr Kavanaugh had mobilised and galvanised their supporters.

Democratic senator Ben Cardin of Maryland noted that several key issues framing the Nov 6 election - women's reproductive rights, the Mueller investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election and Republican attempts to roll back the Obamacare health programme - could all come before a Supreme Court pitched to the right by Mr Kavanaugh's presence.

"Those issues are going to be on the ballot in the mid-term, and Judge Kavanaugh underscores those issues," Senator Cardin told Fox.

'Mob rule lost'

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he had never been so disturbed than by the events of recent weeks.

"I'm glad that those who try to overturn the rule of law and replace it with mob rule lost... This is character assassination," he told Fox.

He added: "I've never campaigned against a colleague in my life. That's about to change."

On ABC's This Week, Ms Hirono was pressed on whether she might support potential future Democratic efforts to impeach Mr Kavanaugh.

She demurred, but then added: "I'm focused like a laser beam on the elections. All these angry people know that these people sitting in the Senate are making these decisions.

"They're going to go to the polls and vote differently."

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