From Soft Certainty to Roaring Indignation, Kavanaugh Hearing Was Study in Contrasts

“This is not a good process, but it’s all we got,” Sen. Jeff Flake says

Rachel Mitchell, counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, questions Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday as, from left, Sens. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, listen during the hearing on sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/POOL)
Rachel Mitchell, counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, questions Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday as, from left, Sens. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, listen during the hearing on sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/POOL)
Posted September 28, 2018 at 5:05am

Senators got two irreconcilable accounts Thursday about whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually attacked a girl when he was in high school, setting up a pitched partisan showdown about whether that allegation and others that have surfaced this week are enough to derail his confirmation.

First, Christine Blasey Ford, in a soft but certain tone, told the Senate Judiciary Committee she is “100 percent” certain it was Kavanaugh who pinned her to a bed and covered her mouth as he sexually attacked her at a high school gathering decades ago.

“So what you’re telling us is, this could not be a case of mistaken identity?” ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California asked the psychology professor whose allegation brought threats to her and her family. “Absolutely not,” Ford replied.

And then Kavanaugh roared before the committee, in an opening statement and testimony that alternated between indignant and emotional. He vigorously denied all allegations against him and challenged the Senate’s process as a “circus,” an allegation echoed by several Republican senators.

“You have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy,” Kavanaugh, whose family has also faced threats, told the panel.

The Judiciary Committee will move forward with vote Friday on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said Republican senators have also been told to prepare for a series of procedural votes on Saturday to allow a Monday cloture vote.

Watch: Brett Kavanaugh’s Full Opening Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee

Thursday’s hearing was the culmination of weeks of partisan battles over President Donald Trump’s pick of the reliably conservative federal appeals court judge who has long been considered a candidate for the high court. His confirmation would solidify the court’s rightward tilt for decades; both sides consider this the most important Supreme Court vacancy in a generation, and Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Emotions rode high in a political and cultural moment that could reverberate in the public’s view of the Senate as well as the Supreme Court.

In stark contrast to his nomination hearing earlier this month, Kavanaugh directly went after both Republicans and Democrats on the panel for waiting 10 days to hold the hearing, saying the delay “has been harmful to me and my family, to the Supreme Court and to the country.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham sprang to Kavanaugh’s defense, opting not to cede his time during the nominee’s questioning to the outside prosecutor hired by Republicans.

He and other Republicans criticized Democrats for not disclosing Ford’s confidential allegation to the committee for weeks, giving Ford a suggestion for a law firm to hire, and then leaking it to the media in a way that would send the confirmation process into chaos rather than seek the truth of the claim.

“You’re looking for a fair process? You came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend,” Graham said during an impassioned tirade against his Democratic colleagues, whom he accused of trying to “destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope [Democrats] win in 2020.”

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 27: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., points at the Democrats as he defends Judge Brett Kavanaugh during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/POOL)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gestures at the Democrats as he defends Kavanaugh during Thursday’s Senate Judiciary hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/POOL)

Democrats continued throughout the hearing to demand an FBI investigation into the detailed allegations from Ford and two other women of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Sen. Richard J. Dubin of Illinois seized on Kavanaugh’s statement that he wanted to clear his name.

“I’ve got a suggestion for you, right now. Turn to your left in the front row to Don McGahn, counsel to President Donald Trump,” Durbin said. “Ask him to suspend this hearing and nomination process until the FBI completes its investigation of the charges made by Dr. Ford and others.”

Kavanaugh said he would do whatever the committee wanted, but stopped short of calling for another delay in his hearing. “Every day has been a lifetime,” he told the panel.

During his testimony, Kavanaugh staunchly denied the sexual assault allegations launched against him by Ford and several other women, saying he is “innocent of this charge.” And he reiterated his earlier vow to not bow out of the confirmation process.

“You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never,” he said.

Ford told the committee that Kavanaugh, when he was a junior in high school, pinned her to a bed at a party, groped her over her clothes, attempted to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. His friend, Mark Judge, was also in the room, she said.

Republicans and Democrats took vastly different approaches to Thursday’s politically explosive hearing.

Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa spoke of process and procedure in his opening statement, and Republicans ceded their time to a former prosecutor who took a clinical approach to going over the details of her account. Feinstein talked about Ford’s strength and bravery in coming forward and referenced the #MeToo movement. And Democrats focused on Ford as a person and the ordeal.

Feinstein asked: Why have you held it to yourself all these years? Can you tell us what effect it had on you? Vermont Democrat Patrick J. Leahy said victims of sexual assault have been inspired by Ford coming forward.

At one point, New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker delivered a cup of coffee to the witness table — an atypical move at committee hearings.

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., delivers coffee to Blasey Ford as she testifies. (POOL Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., delivers coffee to Ford as she testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. (POOL Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Ford, flanked by her attorneys Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich, delivered her testimony in a voice that did not carry well through the hearing room. GOP Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mike Lee of Utah were among those leaning forward on the dais to hear her testimony.

Ford, whose testimony evoked her education and experience as a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University in California, said the laughter during the attack has stayed with her.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense,” she said. “I was underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another,” she added.

Ford’s voice broke with emotion, often when she spoke about her “civic duty” to come forward and how she was “very conflicted on whether to speak out.”

But when she was done with her opening statement, she spoke loudly and clearly, almost with relief: “Thank you.”

Watch: Christine Blasey Ford’s Full Opening Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee

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Republican senators were largely silent during Ford’s testimony, and many on both sides of the aisle declined to comment during breaks. But Graham said he found it suspicious that Ford opted to hire an attorney and take a polygraph, and said he wanted to know who paid for the polygraph test.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she was “struck by the fact” that there seemed to be some objection by Republicans to the polygraph test Ford took.

“Certainly, it’s something you should be able to look at when assessing a job interview for the highest court in the land,” the Minnesota Democrat told reporters.

Sen. Chris Coons said his office has been contacted by survivors of sexual assault, and other offices, he said, were experiencing the same.

“It is striking how many survivors of sexual assault are watching and are choosing this moment to come forward with their accounts,” the Delaware Democrat said. “I think that speaks to what a public service is being done her by having a measured and respectful hearing of Dr. Ford’s allegations.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, one of several senators with key votes who wanted the committee to hear from Ford, did not ask any questions but struck a civil tone near the end of the hearing.

“This is not a good process, but it’s all we got,” Flake said. “I would just urge my colleagues to recognize that in the end we are 21 very imperfect senators trying to do our best to provide advice and consent and in the end there is likely to be as much doubt as certainty going out of this room today.”

After the hearing, Flake said he was still undecided on his committee vote Friday on Kavanaugh’s nomination.