Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is getting help from an old Senate hand as he seeks to navigate the chamber ahead of his confirmation hearing -- tapping into a long tradition of nominees using “sherpas” to find their way.
The Senate is moving swiftly to consider Kavanaugh's nomination to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired last month. Hearings are set to kick off right after Labor Day.
In that tight timetable, Kavanaugh is being guided by his "sherpa" -- a special escort to help him meet with senators as he seeks to drum up support for his confirmation.
For that role, Kavanaugh has tapped former Arizona senator and GOP whip Jon Kyl.
"Sherpa" originates in mountaineering, the term for a guide who helps an inexperienced climber ascend a difficult climb. Capitol Hill may only stand 88 feet above sea level, but trekking to the highest court in the land necessitates a political alpinist, so the nominee doesn’t plunge into a Senate crevasse.
"You can call it a sherpa, or a guide, or sensei, or a teacher or whatever it is but a sherpa is usually a guide, it’s somebody you’re looking to to help you go through the process” Ron Bonjean, who served as Kyl’s chief of staff, told Fox News. “When you have sherpa, it is not for the rest of your life. It is usually because you are on a trip and you need help getting from point A to point B.”
Bonjean also worked on last year’s confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, where former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte was his sherpa.
“The confirmation process has turned into a political campaign for office and while you have judges that have brilliant legal minds, they are literally running for office for the first time,” Bonjean said. “And having a sherpa or a campaign manager help them go through the process is extremely useful.”
Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, who was a sherpa for Chief Justice John Roberts and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers (who withdrew), said that Kyl will be looking at those meetings to get a read from his former colleagues.
“He’ll be in those meetings and he’ll be able to get an ... objective read from the meetings of body language and knowing his former colleagues ... he will be able to report that back” to the confirmation team counting votes, he said.
Other past sherpas include Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who was sherpa for Justice Samuel Alito, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who guided Justice Sonia Sotomayor through her 2009 confirmation.