Judge Brett Kavanaugh appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday probably expecting a contentious hearing, especially from the Democrat members. I doubt, however, that he expected to be confronted by the D.C. chapter of Antifa. Here I'm talking about the Democrat Senators on the committee as well as the unruly loudmouthed mob in the gallery. The Democrat members had obviously caucused beforehand and agreed on a modus operandi for the hearing that was rooted in disrupting the regular order of the proceedings, and they were supported by a gaggle of screaming anti-Kavanaughistas in the bleachers.
Right out of the box, Chairman Grassley was accosted by Democrat members who repeatedly interrupted his remarks and ignored the regular order of the hearing and began a coordinated effort to talk over him and call into question the validity of the hearing. The phalanx of Democrat Senators included the usual subjects like Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal and others who proceeded to push Chairman Grassley into agreeing that the volume of documents available to it was insufficient.
The majority of those documents were from Judge Kavanaugh's time spent in the George W. Bush White House when he was Staff Secretary. Thousands more were deemed to be too sensitive to be discussed in public (Grassley said that Senators would have access to them as 'Committee Confidential,' but behind closed doors). This was all the blood in the confirmation water that the Dems needed to call the hearings a sham, and they used the 'out of order' objections and interruption of the Chairman as their strategy. They were aided by loud shouting from activist protestors from the gallery who turned the event into an Antifa mob scene instead of the dignified setting of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
The biggest offenders of regular order were Senators Harris of California, Blumenthal of Connecticut and Booker of New Jersey. Blumenthal called several times for an adjournment of the hearing, but Grassley wouldn't hear of it, so he pressed on but so did the Democratic Senators AND the protestors. Both groups wanted the hearing turned into a farce, and for awhile they succeeded by delaying the actual hearing for an hour and fifteen minutes.
Like cheerleaders repeating a familiar cheer, Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Dick Durbin of Illinois accused the nominee and the Administration of trying to 'hide something' (through their refusal to release all the documents declared as 'Executive Privilege' documents). "What are they trying to hide" was the battle cry of the Dems and they did so with solemn faces and great fervor.
After Leahy's and Durbin's 20 minutes had expired (and that of two Republican members), it was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse' (Rhode Island) turn. Whitehouse proceeded to roll out his own conspiracy theory about "the Roberts' five" - five conservative-leaning Justices who, according to him, colluded to support issues that would benefit big business by keeping them out of court. He proceeded to tar Kavanaugh with the same conspiracy brush that he tainted the Supreme Court (SC) with and warned of the 'deep dark secrets' of "Republican political operatives" like Kavanaugh.
Next came Republican Senator Ted Cruz who put things into perspective by using most of his time to describe the real reasons the Dems were going off the reservation...politics and the re-litigation of the 2016 Presidential election. Then the Chairman called for a well-needed 30-minute break. The hearings resumed with a subdued and measured ten-minute segment by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) from Minnesota. She was followed by Republican Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska, who in typical straightforward Midwestern fashion, gave everybody a civics lesson about nomination hearings.
The next Democrat Senator to speak was Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Coons was one of those who challenged the Chairman's authority to continue with the hearings at the outset. His comments were less acerbic but nonetheless critical of the nomination process. He revisited the Merritt Garland issue of 2016 and called into question a few of Justice Gorsuch' recent decisions, inserting doubt that the American public knew enough about Gorsuch and now, Kavanaugh. Coons came back to the 'what are they trying to hide' theme and said he was troubled about Kavanaugh's dissents, characterizing them as falling outside the mainstream opinion. He focused on what he called a 'hostility' to civil rights decisions.
The baton was passed to Arizona Senator Jeff Flake (R) who, as a Senate short-timer, spoke only briefly. Then came Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal who proceeded to castigate the nominee by linking him to the President. His ten minutes (15 actually) turned into a diatribe against Donald Trump and ended with a request of Kavanaugh to ask the Senate to postpone his own hearing until all the outstanding documents are given to the committee.
Thankfully, the homespun, plain-spoken Republican Senator from Louisiana, John Kennedy followed, and he elicited a laugh from all when he asked if he had two hours for his remarks. Kennedy's 'voice of reason' about the judiciary was welcomed and he stopped short of his ten-minutes. Senator Mazie Hirono (D) from Hawaii came loaded for bear and made repeated negative comments about the nominee as being a far right-wing ideologue - a product of 'court-packing' by the President. Listing a litany of social issues that Trump judicial appointments have ruled on, Hirono called him "knee deep in partisan politics" and thereby a danger to social advances made in the last decade. Citing women's rights, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, voting rights, union rights, she cautioned that this is a "battle worth fighting" and that a right-wing court is a danger to all Americans. Echoing Senators Blumenthal and Durbin, she asked Kavanaugh to self-suspend his hearing.
It was 3:00 pm when it was Idaho Republican Senator Mike Crapo's turn. He brought the hearing back into a sensible orbit with his factual look back at other Supreme Court nominees' hearings. He called Kavanaugh a "judge's judge" and proceeded to clarify why the Democrats have adopted their scorched Earth strategy by reiterating the previous comments made by Texas Senator Ted Cruz on their wish to re-litigate the 2016 Presidential election. Then came Cory Booker, the junior Senator from New Jersey, who played up the unfairness of the latest document dump that was made the evening before. He spent much of his time trying to 'make nice' with the Chairman for his earlier interruptions and presenting himself as a reasonable man.
He went on to suggest that Judge Kavanaugh only got on to the Supreme court nominee short list because the President's legal issues intensified (and that the prevailing wisdom was that he - Kavanaugh - would protect him from the bench). His ten minutes morphed into eighteen when his remarks took on the clear, unmistakable tone of a Presidential candidate's speech as he talked about healthcare, poverty, the judicial system, racial issues, voting rights, homosexual marriage, abortion and the 'dark money' that has poured into America. He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Founding Fathers, but qualified his view of the Founding Fathers' wisdom by saying that they were flawed individuals. He tested the patience of the committee Chair and the other Republicans by running way over his time limit, but justified it by calling himself a 'trailblazer.'
Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina (R) followed with a pointed remark that, "he would have a 12-minute preamble and 15-minute's worth of remarks." His remarks were a breath of fresh air after the Booker drone. Not to be outdone by her Democrat predecessors, Senator Kamala Harris of California stood up to bat and swung hard at what she saw as a curveball on the lack of documents of Judge Kavanaugh from his time as Staff Secretary in the Bush White House. She called Kavanaugh's background as 'hidden' and that his job interview for SC Justice was tainted by the lack of information on it. Senator Harris couldn't resist bringing the President's problems with the Russia investigation into the mix and warned that he (Kavanaugh) could be the swing vote in not prosecuting the President should it come to that. She ended her remarks with an accusation that what guides Kavanaugh is pure partisanship. "He seeks to win at all costs even if that means pushing the envelope."
The last Senator to speak was Senator Lindsay Graham (R) from South Carolina and he brought everyone back down to Earth. He excoriated the Democrat committee members by reminding them that conservative and liberal Presidents always suggest SC nominees that have similar views or outlooks. No one should expect that conservative presidents should put up liberal SC nominees nor the reverse. He ended with, "To my friends on the other side, you can't lose elections and pick judges."
To his credit, Brett Kavanaugh was calm throughout the proceedings, and it must have been extremely difficult for him to have his character assailed so openly and blatantly by partisan Senators with a bone to pick with the Trump Administration. If suffering fools gladly were the litmus test for picking a Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh should be approved, unanimously.
Stephan Helgesen is a retired U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in over 30 countries. He is also an author of nine books and over 850 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He can be reached at email@example.com