Senators bickered over a last-minute document dump, as constant protests interrupted the proceedings.
This hearing was always going to be a shitshow, but the fireworks began even earlier than most had expected. Mere seconds after Chuck Grassley, the chair of the senate judiciary committee, opened the confirmation hearing into Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, the committee’s Democrats opened fire with a barrage of objections.
Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California, was the first to jump in with her objection to the proceeding, based on the fact that thousands of pages of documents pertaining to Kavanaugh had been unceremoniously dumped the previous night, giving the Democrats on the committee almost no chance to review them before the hearings began.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut immediately put forward a motion to adjourn the hearing so that he and the other Democratic senators on the committee could have a chance to review the documents, supported by Cory Booker of New Jersey and others in the minority.
Grassley, however, was having none of it. “Denied, because we’re not in executive session,” he kept saying. In the packed hearing-room, protester after protester had to be escorted out. One was screaming “TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE!” The senators were constantly interrupted by the screams and yells from the gallery.
Throughout, Kavanaugh himself – currently a judge on the DC circuit court, a previous White House staff secretary under George W. Bush who had worked for Ken Starr on the investigation into Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal – sat po-faced, as the Democratic senators hit out again and again about the process.
“90 per cent of his record has been withheld from senators,” New Jersey senator Cory Booker said. “Here we are about to go ahead with just ten per cent of this nominees record… common sense would say that’s not fair, it’s not right… it’s just plain wrong.” As he spoke, yet another protester was dragged from the room.
The 500-pound gorilla in the room was, of course, Merrick Garland, the man Obama nominated in 2016 to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia. At the time, in an unprecedented move, the Republicans in the Senate claimed that they wanted to wait until the election was decided before filling the seat. It was eventually filled in 2017 by Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
“Playing politics with such an obviously qualified candidate” was the accusation levelled by Orrin Hatch, a jaw-dropping statement given that he was one of those Republicans who refused even to meet with Garland in 2016.
“We waited for more than a year with a vacancy on the Supreme Court under the direction of your leader in the U.S. Senate,” Democratic senator Dick Durbin pointed out. “The fact that we cannot take a few days or weeks to have a complete review of Judge Kavanaugh's record is unfair to the American people.”
Now, with a vacancy on America’s highest court coming much closer to an election, and one that could well change the makeup of the Senate chamber and maybe even remove Republicans from the majority, Grassley et al want to rush through the nomination of a judge who might change the face of the court for decades to come.
Uncivil as the hearing may have seemed, none of the Democrats said outright, though several implied, what they are all thinking: that the hypocrisy of congressional Republicans knows no bounds.
But then, this hearing was never going to be about Kavanaugh himself. The Democrats, with their eye on the midterm elections in November, are responding to pressure from their base, who are demanding a total war footing be taken on the confirmation of a judge who many fear could lead to the overturn of Roe vs Wade, the landmark case which enshrined US abortion rights in law.
There is little chance that they could actually stop the confirmation, as ultimately Republicans have the majority in the chamber. But the amount of noise the Democrats are making, compared to that which they made during the Gorsuch confirmation, shows that they understand how much and how powerful is the grassroots feeling behind this.
The hearings are likely to continue through the week; senators will get the chance to begin questioning Kavanaugh directly starting on Monday.