Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, abandoning their silence in questioning the woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, heatedly defended their U.S. Supreme Court nominee, who said his family and reputation “have been permanently destroyed.”
What had been a relatively calm and nonpartisan morning session, where Christine Blasey Ford recounted her claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in the 1980s, erupted into partisan rancor between Republican and Democratic members.
Kavanaugh and the Republicans accused Democrats of a political hit-job. Democrats focused on the “quiet and raw” testimony from Ford, a research psychologist in California who testified for four hours and spoke about how the alleged attack affected her life.
The 21-member committee—11 Republicans, 10 Democrats—is expected to vote Friday morning on Kavanaugh’s nomination to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy. One key vote, Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican, said in his allotted time that ”in the end there is likely to be as much doubt as certainty.”
If reported out of the judiciary committee, Kavanaugh’s nomination is expected to move quickly to the floor. Senate Republican leaders were reportedly meeting Thursday evening to discuss the next steps. The Supreme Court term starts Oct. 1. Kavanaugh said Thursday that he had hired, on a contingent basis, four clerks—all female—for the upcoming term.
What follows are five highlights from Thursday’s hearing.
➤➤ Kavanaugh refused to say whether he would ask, on his own, the Senate or the White House to get the FBI involved to investigate the misconduct claims. Democratic members have emphasized the lack of an FBI investigation to collect facts about the allegations and the refusal of Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to ask President Donald Trump to direct the FBI to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations. During the hearing, Grassley insisted the FBI does not reach conclusions and make recommendations. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, repeatedly tried to get Kavanaugh to personally embrace an FBI investigation. Durbin asked Kavanaugh to turn around and ask Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, to ask for an FBI investigation. Kavanaugh would not budge. He stuck to his line: “I welcome all the committee wants to do. I’m innocent. They [FBI] don’t reach conclusions. I said I wanted a hearing.”
➤➤ Drinking was a central topic, and Kavanaugh wasn’t eager to talk about it. Kavanaugh dodged and deflected and distanced himself from questions about how much he drank in high school and college. Alcohol was the element common to the three sexual misconduct allegations lodged against Kavanaugh. When pressed about his drinking in high school—the timeframe of Ford’s sexual assault allegation—Kavanaugh said, “I like beer. Sometimes I had too many beers.” He denied ever drinking to the point of blacking out, passing out or not remembering where he was or what he did the night before. Kavanaugh was forced to apologize at one point after asking Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, about her drinking habits.
Brett Kavanaugh apologizes for flipping the question on Sen. Amy Klobuchar: "Sorry I did that, this is a tough process. I'm sorry about that."
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 27, 2018
➤➤ Kavanaugh came out in fighting form. Kavanaugh was notably different at the hearing from his appearance Tuesday night on Fox TV. Gone was his calm plea for a fair process and in its place was an angry, defiant nominee who was dismissive and hostile at times to the Democratic senators pressing him. His demeanor reflected his comments in his opening statement in which he accused the “frenzy of the left” for turning the confirmation process into a “national disgrace.”
➤➤ Now, it’s OK to talk politics and take sides. Just a few weeks ago, at the start of his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh said repeatedly he would not touch anything remotely political. Judges, after all, are nonpartisan. That position went out the door Thursday. Kavanaugh inveighed against Democrats and activists, holding them responsible for drawing attention to the sexual assault claims lodged by Ford and other women. “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” Kavanaugh said, in an extraordinarily political statement for a Supreme Court nominee. He added: “This is a circus.”
➤➤ Republicans ditched their outside counsel. During the first part of Thursday’s hearing, when the committee addressed Ford, the Republican lawmakers on the panel ceded all their time for questioning to veteran sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. When it became time to interrogate Kavanaugh? Mitchell began to pinch-hit for Republicans, but soon dropped out. Republicans used their allotted time to defend Kavanaugh—mainly speaking out and asking few questions. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, spent five minutes railing against Democrats, and described the Kavanaugh controversy as “the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”