Chaos reigns on day one of Kavanaugh hearings
Senate Democrats and dozens of protesters repeatedly interrupted the first day of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, sparking frustration from Republicans and chaos within the committee room.
Though they are unlikely to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation in the GOP-held Senate, Democrats set the pace for the hearing by sparring, cajoling and pleading with Republicans to delay the hearing or reject President Trump’s nominee outright.
A steady stream of protesters contributed to the circus-like atmosphere. By the end of the day, 70 people had been arrested by Capitol Police and 61 people had been taken out of the hearing room. They included actress Piper Perabo of television’s “Covert Affairs.”
Outside the committee’s room, the scene was similarly chaotic, with lines winding down the hallways of the Hart Senate Office building and protesters filling the hallways during a brief recess. More than a dozen demonstrators dressed as characters from Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a reminder that Kavanaugh’s confirmation could tilt the balance of the court against women’s rights.
Rod Rosenstein, the embattled deputy attorney general feuding with congressional Republicans, also caused a frenzied reaction with his entrance to the room.
The hearing went off the rails almost immediately after Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) gaveled in the panel.
Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) became the first Democrat to interrupt Grassley, saying senators could not “move forward” after lawyers for former President George W. Bush handed over 42,000 documents from Kavanaugh’s tenure as a White House lawyer to the committee less than a day before Tuesday’s hearing.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) got into several rounds of back-and-forth with Grassley over the in-the-weeds wording of committee rules as he tried, unsuccessfully, to get Grassley to adjourn the hearing.
Blumenthal warned that without a vote on adjourning the hearing, consideration of Kavanaugh’s nomination “will be tainted and stained forever.”
“There will always be an asterisk after your name: Nominated by a president named as an unindicted co-conspirator after the vast majority of documents relating to the most constructive periods of his life were concealed,” he said to Kavanaugh. “The question will always be, why was all that material concealed?”
The drama-filled, televised scene laid bare the deep frustrations over Kavanaugh’s nomination — and the anger Democrats feel toward the Senate GOP’s blockade of Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s final nominee to the court. Obama nominated Garland to the court in March 2016, but Republicans refused to give him a hearing.
Republicans said Kavanaugh was being treated unfairly by Democrats and accused the minority of “mob rule” of the committee.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a former chairman and current member of the committee, snapped at protesters, calling one a “loudmouth,” as a woman began protesting as Hatch was speaking.
“I don’t know that the committee should have to put up with the type of insolence taking place in this room today,” a visibly annoyed Hatch said as protesters tried to shout over his speech supporting Kavanaugh’s confirmation with chants of “Hell no, Kavanaugh. Hell no, Kavanaugh.”
“Congratulations and condolences, this process has to stink,” Sasse told Kavanaugh. “I’m glad your daughters could get out of the room and I hope they still get the free day from school.”
Despite the party-line drama, there were moments of humor in the hearing.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) joked that he and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) were new to the Judiciary Committee because they “didn’t come here when Moses walked the earth.” Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), the top two senators, are 84 and 85, respectively.
The hearing got noticeably quiet once Kavanaugh got his chance to speak late in the afternoon.
In his opening remarks Kavanaugh assured the committee he is apolitical, ruling “sometimes for the prosecution and sometimes for criminal defendants” and “sometimes for businesses and sometimes for environmentalists.”
“In each case, I have followed the law. I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences,” said Kavanaugh.
Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate, meaning Democrats need to pick up two GOP senators, as well as keep their entire caucus united, if they want to block Kavanaugh. Several red-state Democrats are viewed as likely “yes” votes after three — Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly(Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — voted for Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.
But Democrats are facing intense pressure from progressives who want them to wage an all-out war to try to stop or at least disrupt Kavanaugh’s hearings. Outside groups have fumed as Democrats, widely expected to be “no” votes,” have stayed formally on the fence.
They appeared to get a momentary reprieve as activists and outside groups praised the hard-line tactics deployed by Democrats on the panel.
The dynamic of a vocal base trying to push the party to the left ahead of 2020 was an undercurrent throughout Tuesday’s hearing. Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Demand Justice, praised Harris, a potential White House contender, saying she was “showing the way. This is what leadership looks like.”
Meanwhile, Republicans seized on a fundraising email sent out by Booker during the hearing. Sasse warned that such tactics would only “make us sicker, not healthier.”
Hatch didn’t mention Booker or Harris by name but fumed that there are “folks who want to run for president, who want their moment in the spotlight. Who want that coveted TV clip.”
But if Democrats were hoping to get a rise out of Grassley, they failed.
The GOP chairman, known for snapping at reporters, held his fire and at times reassured Democrats that he would let them speak.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, repeatedly aimed his rhetorical fire at Democrats, comparing their tactics to “mob rule” and urging his colleagues to “get a grip” and “take a deep breath.”
But when he suggested Grassley should crack down on the 10-minute rule for speeches, the Iowa senator declined. He sent a subsequent warning shot to Democrats that he wanted to enforce time limits on Wednesday’s session, which is expected to last 12 hours.
“You guys have been very successful today in running the committee,” Grassley said to Democrats. “I don’t want it to happen tomorrow.”