Politics

6 Takeaways from Kavanaugh’s Combative Testimony

‘I liked beer. I still like beer,’ defiant nominee tells Judiciary Committee

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. He often jousted with Democratic members. (POOL PHOTO/SAUL LOEB/AFP)

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was backed into a corner by the Thursday testimony of one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford. He sat in the same chair about an hour after she vacated it with one mission: To fight back, just like the man who nominated him, President Donald Trump.

Kavanaugh wasted no time in an opening statement he said he wrote himself on Wednesday, ripping into Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee members in a way perhaps no high court nominee ever has. His gloves-off approach could change the judicial confirmation process forever.

“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” Kavanaugh said. “The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy.”

Kavanaugh set the tone for his portion of a daylong hearing that became a testy partisan spectacle, hours of testimony that did almost nothing to shed light on what may or may not have happened in an upscale neighborhood outside Washington 36 years ago. Here are six takeaways from the nominee’s rebuttal of Ford’s accusation.

Combative Kavanaugh

Television cameras picked up Kavanaugh walking down a hallway to the Dirksen Office Building hearing room with a stern expression on his face. Beside him was his wife, Ashley. She was dressed in all black.

“The behavior of several of the Democratic members of this committee at my hearing a few weeks ago was an embarrassment, but at least it was a good old-fashioned attempt at Borking. Those efforts didn’t work,” Kavanaugh said in that remarkable opening statement. “When I did at least OK enough at the hearings that it looked like I might actually get confirmed a new tactic was needed. Some of you were lying in wait and had it ready.”

After Kavanaugh’s fiery opening statement, committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., appeared taken aback by his demeanor. She said his frustration and anger was “understandable” before moving into her questioning.

Drinking games

Democratic member after Democratic member tried to use Kavanaugh's own words in a yearbook to paint him as a heavy drinker — sometimes to excess or passing out. He denied ever passing out due to drinking.

“I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did,” the nominee said of his high school years. “Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer, but I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I never sexually assaulted anyone.”

During a particularly tense back-and-forth with Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Kavanaugh defiantly asked him: “What do you like to drink, senator?”

Tipping point

Republican senators had mostly sat silent, allowing prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to handle their questioning, until an exchange with Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin

The Illinois Democrat repeatedly pressed Kavanaugh on why he did not immediately call for a FBI investigation after his first accuser, Christine Blassey Ford, went public on Sept. 16. The two sparred, with Kavanaugh growing emotional and raising his voice.

Then one of Durbin’s GOP colleagues decided to get off the sidelines.

“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., shouted. “God, y’all want power and I hope you never get it,” a clearly angry Graham said. “These have been my friends, but when it comes to this, if you’re looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong town at the wrong time.”

Graham blasted Democrats for painting Kavanaugh as a “serial rapist.” Moments later, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas also used his time to speak, sending this message to on-the-fence Republican senators who will decide Kavanaugh’s fate: “In order to vote against your nomination, we would have to conclude [Kavanaugh is] a serial liar.”

‘Balls and strikes’

Cornyn told Fox News on Sept. 4 that Kavanaugh, a federal appellate judge for 12 years, is “somebody who calls balls and strikes and doesn’t come up with his own strike zone.”

But, as moderate senators process the Thursday spectacle, his hours of testy exchanges with Democratic senators cast some doubt on whether a Justice Kavanaugh would be a non-political member of the high court.

“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,” Kavanaugh said during a self-penned opening statement.

“Revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” he added.

For instance, if confirmed, he very likely would be asked to vote on cases involving, in his words, “left-wing opposition groups.” Would he have to recuse himself?

The contenders

The Judiciary Committee features several potential 2020 presidential candidates. Each appeared to use their time in the spotlight with a possible White House bid in mind.

Klobuchar won the appreciation of Kavanaugh, who thanked her for how she performed during his initial two days of testimony.

She also went the personal route when questioning in over his drinking as a younger man, telling him her elderly father is an alcoholic who still attends Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. “He’s sober,” she said with a smile. The nominee pushed back — but too hard. He asked if she had ever passed out due to drinking too much, and apologized after an afternoon break.

Possible Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey attempted to paint the nominee as a weekday drinker — not just someone who had beers with his buddies on the weekend. Kavanaugh and Booker jousted — lightly — about the frequency.

“Do you wish she never came forward?” Booker asked. Kavanaugh responded by saying other people she said were at the party contend they were not present.

And California Sen. Kamala Harris had the tactically unfortunate final seat on the Democrats’ side of the dais. She started by noting Kavanaugh has not taken a polygraph test, unlike Ford.

She also asked if he agrees men can be friends with some women but treat other women “badly.” He replied, “of course.” Harris was reacting to Kavanaugh’s contention he has never committed sexual misconduct because he has “lifelong” female friends.

Whip count

Senate Republicans went huddle in the Capitol on Thursday night to discuss the hearing and for leaders to get a sense of whether the votes are there to confirm Kavanaugh.

“I believe you’re going to be on the court,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

If that closed-door meeting is anything like the afternoon and evening portions of the Judiciary hearing, members could leave angry. During the hearing, Graham sent a message to his GOP colleagues, some of whom are on the fence: “If you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”

With several GOP senators having not yet stated how they would vote, Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Graham and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky appear to have some work to do.

Almost as soon as Grassley gaveled the hearing adjourned, Trump sent a message to GOP Senate and Judiciary Committee leaders, writing: "The Senate must vote!"

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.