Thu. 9:09 a.m.: Kavanaugh faces final round of questioning without missteps

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh smiles as he stands up for the first break in his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators will launch a final round of questioning of Brett Kavanaugh this morning, but after a marathon 12-hour session on Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court appears to have avoided any major missteps that could trip his confirmation.

So far, Kavanaugh does not seem to have changed minds on the Judiciary Committee, which is split along partisan lines. The judge left unanswered questions over how he would handle investigations of the executive branch and whether he would recuse himself if cases involving Trump under special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe end up at the court.

His credibility may face new tests by senators who are seeking to make public some emails and documents from his Bush White House years that are being withheld by the committee as confidential.

Trump says he’s pleased with his nominee’s televised performance, and Republicans are united behind him, eager to add a conservative judge to the court.

The questioning of Kavanaugh has carried strong political overtones ahead of the November congressional elections. Democrats lack the votes to block confirmation, but have been pressing Kavanaugh for his views on abortion rights, gun control and other issues. Protesters have added to the challenges for Kavanaugh, repeatedly interrupting proceedings.

“You’re more than halfway done,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told Kavanaugh as he gaveled the hearing closed late Wednesday.

Pressured by Democrats with Trump on their minds during Wednesday’s grueling session, the judge insisted that he fully embraced the importance of judicial independence. But he refused to provide direct answers to Democrats who wanted him to say whether there are limits on a president’s power to issue pardons, including to himself or in exchange for a bribe. He also would not say whether he believes the president can be subpoenaed to testify. Still, he began his long day in the witness chair by declaring that “no one is above the law.”

When Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., asked what constraints exist on executive power, the judge cited existing laws but also norms. “Norms are important. Historical practice is relevant to judicial decision-making,” he said.

Democrats are concerned that Kavanaugh will push the court to the right and that he will side with Trump in cases stemming from Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign. The 53-year-old appellate judge answered cautiously when asked about most of those matters, refusing an invitation from Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to pledge to step aside from any Supreme Court cases dealing with Trump and Mueller’s investigation.