Sen. Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.) blocked press cameras from capturing his meeting with President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in his taxpayer-funded office on Wednesday. His campaign, however, didn't hesitate to subsequently release b-roll footage of the meeting on YouTube, which could be used in campaign advertisements as the senator fights to garner support for reelection in a state Trump won by 19 points in 2016.
Donnelly became the second Democrat after Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) to publicly announce three weeks ago that he planned to sit down with Kavanugh for a "courtesy meeting" after immense pressure from his opponent, Republican businessman Mike Braun. Braun took credit for Donnelly's decision to meet with the nominee, adding he has no doubt "Donnelly will wait until the liberal wing of his party gives him permission to support Judge Kavanaugh."
While no cameras were allowed inside the meeting, Donnelly's staff released a photo of the senator and Kavanaugh smiling and shaking hands, the Indianapolis Fox affiliate reported. It is unclear who will be using the b-roll footage that was uploaded onto Donnelly's YouTube page, but pro-Donnelly political action committees trying to portray him as someone willing to work across the aisle may pick it up.
Donnelly is one of about a half-dozen vulnerable red state Democrats who are facing pressure from Democrats and liberals who want Donnelly to vote against Kavanaugh. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) is counting on Donnelly and the other vulnerable Democrats to vote against Trump's nominee, but a decision to do so may put their reelection at risk come November, especially as Trump and Republicans pressure them to listen to their constituents.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said that while Schumer faces pressure from liberal groups, he always tells his Democratic caucus the same thing.
"All Chuck ever says in caucus [meetings], it’s pretty well known: ‘Keep your powder dry. Don’t commit. Stay as neutral as you can, as long as you can,’" Durbin said. "It gives him some room to maneuver."
Braun's spokesman Josh Kelley slammed Donnelly for blocking cameras during the meeting and potentially using the b-roll footage for campaign ads, saying the tactic "borders on serious ethical issues."
"Career politician Joe Donnelly blocked cameras from his meeting with Judge Kavanaugh, but that didn’t stop him from secretly filming the meeting so his buddy Chuck Schumer and other liberals could use the footage for political ads," Kelley said. "This behavior reaffirms that Donnelly will vote for Kavanaugh once his confirmation is secured, and his taxpayer-funded office creating footage for campaign ads borders on serious ethical issues."
After meeting with Kavanaugh, Donnelly said he has yet to reach a decision on whether he will support Kavanaugh's confirmation.
"Hoosiers rightly expect careful and thoughtful consideration of a nomination to our nation’s highest court, and I plan to keep doing my homework and make a decision sometime after Kavanaugh’s committee confirmation hearing," Donnelly said.