Brett Kavanaugh, whose path to the U.S. Supreme Court had been seemingly blocked by a last-minute spate of allegations making him out to be a serial sexual abuser, took to the witness stand at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the charges of Dr. Christine Ford with an air of impending defeat. Kavanaugh was coming off a somewhat dry performance in a Fox News interview on Monday, and the major media narrative earlier in the day after Ford testified in front of a committee quite clearly determined not to be overly aggressive in challenging her story was that his nomination was in trouble.
Kavanaugh might not have come completely through the woods after the tour de force that followed, but he did accomplish much with one of the most gripping, emotional and inspirational presentations in the history of Senate confirmations.
While Ford’s testimony offered what looked like raw emotion – her voiced often cracked, but there were no visible tears – Kavanaugh’s passion and pain was unmistakable. He choked back tears often and was visibly wet around the eyes. But most of all was his rage; rage against the torment the orgy of unsubstantiated allegations against him had put his family through, rage at the loss of his reputation, rage at the ugly tone of his confirmation hearings and rage at the Senate Democrats’ handling of the Ford accusations.
It was masterful. A few further observations…
Kavanaugh’s statement was excruciatingly long for the Democrats he was excoriating. If you haven’t actually seen it, we have video…
What you notice from the statement is first that he insists he’s the one who wrote it. What we took from that was that Kavanaugh might have been over-handled in his previous public appearances; he was quite toned down ion that Fox News interview, and in this presentation he was most certainly not. That indicates he has a lot more spirit and personality than he’s shown, and today was him letting it hang out. That was a great decision; had he had this much fire in the Fox News interview one gets the impression some of the frenzy around him might have fallen away.
We make that observation because when Kavanaugh got going and laid into the Democrats for their handling of the Ford allegations, something he thundered away at for a while, once the questioning started they were very muted – particularly Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member who started this mess by abusing Ford’s letter. It got a little more heated with a few of their questions, but clearly Kavanaugh had bested a crew of senators who thought after Ford’s testimony they’d have the opportunity to finish him off.
What was the coup de grace of Kavanaugh’s statement was when he noted his 10-year old daughter had asked that the family pray for Christine Ford – and that he said he and his family bear her no ill will. That’s a masterful way of summoning up the outrage of a man falsely accused without turning the affair into a binary he-said, she-said proposition; Kavanaugh framed the controversy as not disputing that Ford might have suffered some sexual assault somewhere along the line of her life but making it clear that he was not the perpetrator. Given that he has meticulous notes on his activities and whereabouts in calendars he kept in high school and beyond and there are no corroborating witnesses to her allegations, that’s a good face-saving out for people who would struggle to choose his story over hers for whatever reason.
Bearing in mind the primary jury in this trial is the handful of weak Republican senators on the fence about his nomination, that’s a winning formula.
Trump said Kavanaugh proved why he nominated him, and that’s inarguable. Here was the President’s tweet following Kavanaugh’s appearance before the committee…
Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2018
This references perhaps the quote of the hearing by Kavanaugh, in which he said the Senate Democrats had transformed the “advise and consent” role into “search and destroy.” That’s one of the most memorable lines in the history of these confirmation hearings, and it definitely resonates with an American public which appears to be increasingly frustrated and angry with how this process has gone.
What was obvious about this situation from Kavanaugh’s testimony was that here was a man of enormous passion and enormous inner strength, who has been through hell and more in the past 10 days, but who completely refuses to be beaten. The narratives built to destroy his nomination aren’t enough to overcome that character, particularly when there’s no evidence to go with them.
Scalded by his opening statement, the Democrats fell back to an unworkable strategy. Feinstein was stammering in her examination of Kavanaugh, and there was a reason for it that came out later. As it turns out, she had a private meeting with him back in August in which she never asked him about the Ford allegations. Let’s remember, she had a letter from Ford on or before July 30, and she sat on that letter and failed to do anything with it until 10 days ago.
This is a problem, because her actions ultimately led to Ford having to go public which she said she didn’t want to do – you are free not to believe that if you want and you’re not unreasonable to reject it based on things like Ford purging her social media and taking a polygraph, but it is the public presentation of her position – and she neglected the opportunity to have a private airing of the allegations and, assumedly, a direct answer, when Kavanaugh met with her in her office in late August. Then there is the issue of Ford’s letter leaking to the media, which Feinstein seemed to want to blame on Ford rather than her staff or herself – something which was the subject of an interesting back-and-forth at the hearing.
Which meant that Feinstein’s questioning of Kavanaugh was exceptionally careful, and it focused on something which came up repeatedly when the Democrats questioned the judge – namely, an attempt to enlist him in demanding the FBI investigate Ford’s allegations as well as those of Deborah Ramirez and “creepy porn lawyer” Michael Avenatti. This was always a ridiculously poor gambit – the idea that a man who has been made to suffer very badly for the media circus the Ford allegations and their follow-on successors have caused is somehow beholden to ask for his confirmation process to be extended to accomodate an FBI investigation of allegations he vigorously contends are false is hardly something the average voter is going to expect him to agree to.
And as the Democrats’ questioning went on, it got progressively worse, as clearly somewhere along the line it was decided they’d pursue the angle that Kavanaugh was prone to episodes of getting falling-down drunk in circumstances where he might black out and turn into a Mr. Hyde-style sexual predator. The obvious retort to that is your typical raging alcoholic is going to struggle to achieve elite results academically and professionally, and Kavanaugh was able to easily deflect those questions by noting he graduated at the top of his class at prestigious Georgetown Prep while captaining the basketball team and playing wide receiver and cornerback in football, as well as running track in the spring, and doing well enough in college to get into Yale Law School. And when Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal attacked Kavanaugh on the basis of a report about a bus trip he organized to a Red Sox game as a law student, a report in which Blumenthal attempted to make the case that Kavanaugh had admitted he was so drunk he didn’t know what had happened, Kavanaugh comically recounted the fact that Roger Clemens had pitched that night against the Kansas City Royals, for whom George Brett didn’t play his usual third base but instead played left field.
And then there was Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, who attempted to damn Kavanaugh with his high school yearbook in an attempt to paint him as a drunk and a sexual predator and ended up interrogating him over subject such as his weak stomach and occasional flatulence, not to mention his friend Chris Garrett, who as it turns out might have dated Ford based on her testimony, having developed a rather flamboyant habit of engaging in something of a wind-up before firing off an F-bomb. That this material should make it into confirmation hearings of a Supreme Court nominee was quite less than optimal, and it’s all on Whitehouse and Blumenthal, who also partook from it, to have brought it up. Kavanaugh referenced that by noting that if that’s what they wanted to talk about, “I’m all in.”
Lindsey Graham killed it. Seriously. Graham, the South Carolina senator who has driven conservatives nuts by his accomodationist position with Democrats over the years and his having played Junior Man to John McCain’s “maverick” act in the Senate, has clearly climbed out of McCain’s shadow in the wake of his death. Graham is beginning to emerge as one of President Trump’s more effective defenders in the Senate, and in particular where it comes to the Kavanaugh nomination – it’s clear he’s been motivated by the bad handling of the Ford letter – and today he had a rather game-changing series of moments. Earlier today we had video of Graham’s soliloquy during a press gaggle after Ford’s testimony, and then during the Kavanaugh session he absolutely went off…
Graham wasn’t the only Republican scoring big at the hearing. Thom Tillis of North Carolina noted that the Democrats have already secured the web domain for the site that will oppose the next Trump-nominated Supreme Court hopeful. Mike Lee went through chapter and verse of the uselessness of an FBI investigation when the witnesses were already in front of the Judiciary Committee’s staff and investigators. Ted Cruz was his usual spirited and lawyerly self. And even John Kennedy, who finished the hearing by asking Kavanaugh pointed questions about whether he believed in God and then asked him to swear to his maker that he was innocent of the allegations made against him, provided the hearing with a proper closing. Where the Democrats were clearly thrown off, the Republicans appeared to gain momentum as Kavanaugh’s appearance wore on.
So what’s going to happen? We know that there will be a Senate Judiciary Committee vote in the morning on the confirmation, at which it’s expected there will be a party-line 11-10 vote to move Kavanaugh’s nomination forward. That’s going to depend on Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has been a thorn in the party’s side for months and who took just one minute to appear at the hearing today…
It’s a crapshoot what this actually means, as Flake has lived up to his name in his final year as a U.S. Senator. And he still claims to be undecided as to where he is on the nomination. But if one had to guess as to his leanings, two items seem to stand out. First is his statement that humility is on order, the most obvious interpretation of which is that in Flake’s case, he might swallow his NeverTrump antics and vote to confirm. And of course the second is that the committee vote was called for tomorrow morning, something one would imagine might not happen if Flake hadn’t given private assurances he’d vote yes.
And on the floor, where the vote would come as soon as this weekend if the nomination makes it out of committee? Well, Thursday night there was this…
My colleague, Sarah Quinlan, just announced that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has declared he will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Now, according to Hill sources, he has company:
Donnelly, Manchin, Murkowski and Collins are all expected to vote the same way, per senators and aides
— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) September 28, 2018
We get the impression that might mean Manchin and Joe Donnelly could cross the aisle to support the nomination, and that might seem unlikely. But remember, West Virginia and Indiana are red states where Kavanaugh’s confirmation is something a solid majority would support, and the position those Democrats would be in isn’t an enviable one.
If you’re Manchin, for example, if you back the nomination, that’s trouble. You might lose your base, who will be demoralized over the confirmation and your vote for it. And that could kill your hopes at a close re-election in November. But if you oppose it, the majority of the voters in West Virginia who are absolutely engaged in the Kavanaugh controversy and will have it front and center in their minds on Nov. 6 will surely punish you for that vote.
What Manchin, and the other Democrat incumbents in red states – Jon Tester in Montana, Donnelly, Heidi Keitkamp of North Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill in Missouri – needed was a quiet vote on Kavanaugh. This is anything but. All of them face the same grueling dynamic, made worse by the bad-faith efforts of the Democrat Party that Republican voters will be seeking to punish in November.