The first Democratic senator to sit down with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he's not ready to say how he'll vote, but Kavanaugh did pick up the backing of Kentucky's Rand Paul, the only Republican in the narrowly divided Senate to have outwardly wavered in possible support.
Paul said he will back Kavanaugh despite misgivings about the judge's views on surveillance and privacy issues. Few had expected Paul would oppose President Donald Trump's choice in the end.
The endorsement gave Kavanaugh a boost as he sat down for two hours with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of a handful of Democratic senators seen as potential swing votes in the confirmation fight.
Manchin said afterward that would not make a final decision on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination until "I complete a thorough and fair examination of his candidacy."
Manchin said they talked about health care, but did not elaborate on specific questions and responses. Manchin has stressed that he wants the courts to protect the Affordable Care Act's protections for people with pre-existing health conditions.
"The Supreme Court may ultimately decide the fate of pre-existing conditions protections for nearly 800,000 West Virginians and will personally impact everyone who knows somebody with a pre-existing condition," Manchin said.
Brianne Solomon, a teacher from Ashton, West Virginia, was one of a handful of constituents who met with Manchin shortly after the Kavanaugh visit. She said an aide told the group that Manchin spent most of the meeting stressing to the nominee the importance of health insurance coverage for West Virginians with pre-existing conditions.
Solomon is working with the coalition Protect Our Care, which is defending the health care law put into place under President Barack Obama. Solomon said she suffers from three pre-existing conditions, including asthma, which is an illness her son has as well.
"He doesn't deserve to be denied access to health care because I passed something onto him genetically," Solomon said.
Manchin was one of three Democrats who voted to confirm Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota were the others. All three are up for re-election in states Trump easily won in 2016.
Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate. With the absence of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is fighting brain cancer, they cannot afford to lose a single Republican vote if all Democrats vote "no."
Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the only two Republicans viewed as possible no votes on Kavanaugh's confirmation. Both say they haven't made a decision yet. Both senators support abortion rights, and liberal advocacy groups are arguing that Kavanaugh's confirmation would undermine Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision.
Paul had let Trump know he preferred other potential Supreme Court nominees he viewed as more conservative. He had expressed concern over Kavanaugh's record on warrantless bulk collection of data and how that might apply to important privacy cases.
Paul, who met with the nominee last week, said he hoped Kavanaugh "will be more open to a Fourth Amendment that protects digital records and property."
Yet he also said his vote doesn't hinge on any one issue. "I believe he will carefully adhere to the Constitution and will take his job to protect individual liberty seriously," Paul said.
Trump thanked Paul with a tweet "for your YES on a future great Justice of the Supreme Court."
Republicans hope to confirm Trump's nominee by fall. Democrats are objecting to holding a vote without being able to review all of the records from his tenure at the White House.
Late last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman, announced he was requesting documents from Kavanaugh's time at the White House counsel's office, not the staff secretary job, which could entail millions of documents.
Democrats say that could leave out some of Kavanaugh's most important work.
"What are they hiding? Why shouldn't we see what that record's about?" Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday on the Senate floor.