How John Cornyn helped deliver GOP votes for Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON — It was the toughest vote U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has had to wrangle in his six years as Senate Republican whip.

In the end, only one Republican opposed Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court: U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who voted present. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, supported Kavanaugh but missed the vote because he was attending his daughter’s wedding.

The result, though, put Kavanaugh on the nation’s highest court by 50-48, further boosting Cornyn’s stature among Republicans and places him, as one expert said, in “the pole position” to eventually be Senate majority leader.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who, like Cornyn, is up for re-election in 2020, hasn’t shown any sign of stepping down but the Texan has positioned himself to succeed him. And Cornyn is finishing his stint as majority whip with a big win, as he gives up his term-limited post at the end of the year.

“At various times, it looked like the nomination was doomed or at least on its way to being doomed and McConnell and Cornyn saved it,” said Sean Theriault, government professor at the University of Texas.

Hours after the vote, Cornyn tweeted a photo of what appeared to be a glass of champagne or sparkling wine with the caption, “Not quite #Beers4Brett but #Bubbly4Brett instead.”

How did Cornyn help the GOP deliver the Kavanaugh nomination?

  • Framing the message: Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, brought a certain gravitas to the GOP response to allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he immediately and publicly embraced the surprise last-minute call by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., for a supplemental FBI report. Cornyn then used it to make the case that the additional witnesses had not corroborated the testimony and statements of Kavanaugh’s accusers. The Senate, he said, had to honor a presumption of innocence.
  • Personal contact: Cornyn was in constant touch with the three wavering Senate Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Murkowski and Flake — by phone, text and in person, delivering the GOP message, re-assuring them of Kavanaugh’s reputation and answering questions. He, McConnell and other GOP leaders had lunch Friday with Collins before she announced her decision to vote for Kavanaugh. Cornyn also facilitated phone calls with the undecided senators and Kavanaugh, the White House and the Department of Justice, said a Senate GOP aide.
  • Judicial temperament: After Kavanaugh’s blustery, emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cornyn moved to turn down the temperature. In public appearances and on social media, he was respectful about Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford and said that Kavanaugh should have toned down his performance while saying it was understandable that he was upset. Senators, he said, should look at Kavanaugh’s 12 years as an appellate judge. “As somebody who served for 13 years on the bench myself, I know the difference between deciding a case as a judge for which Judge Kavanaugh’s temperament has been universally praised, and defending oneself against character assassination and personal destruction,” Cornyn said Saturday.

This story first appeared in the Austin American-Statesman