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Brett Kavanaugh is "too big to fail"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For the White House, it's Brett Kavanaugh or bust. They have no Plan B and there's not even discussion of one, according to five sources with direct knowledge of the sensitive internal White House talks.

What they're saying: "He's too big to fail now," said a senior source involved in the confirmation process. "Our base, our voters, our side, people are so mad," the source continued. "There's nowhere to go. We're gonna make them f---ing vote. [Joe] Manchin in West Virginia, in those red states. Joe Donnelly? He said he's a no? Fine, we'll see how that goes. There will be a vote on him [Kavanaugh]. ... It will be a slugfest of a week."

  • "There's no time before the [midterm] election to put up a new person," a White House official close to the process told me.

Why this matters: When Trump spoke to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House Saturday afternoon, he told them, "I don't need a backup plan," in case Kavanaugh's nomination collapses.

Between the lines: That's just as well, because the small team working to confirm Kavanaugh has not been looking for a backup candidate, let alone vetting one.

  • Sources close to the White House legal operation complained that even if they did want to rush through a new nominee, they couldn’t be sure any male nominee wouldn’t have what one called a “Kavanaugh problem.”
  • "You nominate any man and how do you guarantee ... How do you vet for that?" said that source. "For an accusation that's 36 years old? You can't."
  • There's been plenty of speculation that, after the elections, Trump could put up a female judge such as Amy Coney Barrett, who was on his shortlist last time. But two sources involved at a senior level in Kavanaugh's confirmation told me they worry Barrett might end up being "too conservative" for the pro-choice Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.
  • All that speculation reflects the anger and tension filling the White House.

The bottom line: As of this weekend, sources close to Kavanaugh seemed optimistic the limited weeklong FBI investigation would give the three wavering Republican senators — Jeff Flake, Collins and Murkowski — the confidence they need to vote yes. But a week is an eternity in this political environment. And if Kavanaugh's nomination collapses, there are no easy alternatives.

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