Democrats sought to take control of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing Tuesday, mounting a failed bid to delay President Donald Trump’s nominee and interrupting Republicans dozens of times as multiple activists on the left disrupted the proceedings.
The volley of Democratic interjections began after Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) attempted to open the high-stakes four-day hearing. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) helped coordinate that strategy despite not serving on the Judiciary panel, convening a call with the committee’s minority members over the weekend, according to a source familiar with the planning.
Story Continued Below
Grassley attempted to speak over Democrats even as they sought a vote on a motion to adjourn the hearing, acknowledging that “maybe it’s not going exactly the way that the minority would like to have it go.” One after another, Democrats repeatedly interrupted Grassley in the opening minutes, breaking into their protests to allow Kavanaugh to speak before resuming their push to stop the process until they can examine more records.
But the display of disruption, galvanizing as it was to Kavanaugh’s liberal critics, ultimately did little but delay a day of partisan jockeying that closed, more than seven hours later, with the nominee telling senators that “I do not decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”
Grassley said at the end of the hearing that he’s preparing to schedule a committee vote on Kavanaugh for Sept. 13, paving the way for a final floor vote on confirmation before the new Supreme Court term opens next month. Democrats are expected to exercise their procedural right to delay that by a week, at a minimum.
Senators got more than 42,000 pages of documents late Monday night on a “committee confidential” basis, a designation that prevents their public release and likely stops Democrats from citing them during the hearing. Even before that latest release, however, Democrats already had begun discussing the protest they’d mount Tuesday.
And the move appeared to get under some GOP skins. After repeated interruptions from anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators who were escorted from the hearing room by police, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested that Democrats would be held in “contempt of court” — drawing quick pushback from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — and likened the moment to “mob rule.”
Grassley flatly ruled out Democrats’ repeated calls for an adjournment vote, but the fireworks at the start of the hearing already had set the tone for a raucous week to come. The White House sent a tally of the number of times each Democrat had interrupted Grassley during the first hour of the hearing, for a total of 44 interjections.
Kavanaugh is expected to ultimately get confirmed, with the Senate headed towards a return to 51-49 GOP control following the Tuesday selection of former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) – who guided Trump’s nominee through the confirmation gantlet — to replace the late Sen. John McCain. But Democratic senators are still readying an intense volley of questions for the 53-year-old appeals court judge, focusing on his stance towards an ongoing challenge to Obamacare, the future of Roe v. Wade, and his already-expressed skepticism about criminal investigations of sitting presidents.
Democrats have offered few indications that they’re prepared to attempt a formal boycott of the Judiciary hearing to channel their ire over the withholding of hundreds of thousands of pages of Kavanaugh-related documents from public release.
“We will attend the meetings. We will question assiduously. But we want to express our concerns,” the Judiciary panel’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, told reporters alongside her fellow minority-party members at a gathering on the Supreme Court steps early Tuesday.
Republicans have touted the release of more than 290,000 pages of records from Kavanaugh’s time in George W. Bush’s White House counsel’s office, noting that the volume of public disclosure has dwarfed that for previous Supreme Court picks. But Democrats have been infuriated by the GOP’s omission of any document requests governing Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary to then-President Bush, tension that was stoked last week when the Trump administration cited executive privilege in order to shield more than 100,000 pages of records, infuriating the minority.
After Democrats’ interruptions cooled, Kavanaugh focused his opening statement on his family and friends as well as the support he’s provided to others as a constitutional law professor and volunteer. The judge, who also played a prominent role in drafting the Starr Report on former President Bill Clinton, described himself as “especially grateful to the dean who first hired me” at Harvard Law School — Democratic-tapped Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
Trump’s nominee described himself as a player on the high court’s “Team of Nine” and a “neutral and impartial arbiter,” if he wins confirmation in the coming weeks.
Liberal activists mounted their own show of force against Kavanaugh throughout Tuesday, the first of four days that are expected to stretch to marathon length. Women dressed in the red-and-white garb made famous by the dystopian novel “Handmaid’s Tale” gathered outside the hearing room, demonstrating against Kavanaugh’s potential to rule against abortion rights.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was among several committee members in both parties acknowledging the difficulty of speaking over the demonstrators, quipping that “we ought to have this loudmouth removed” after a woman cried out about protecting pre-existing conditions.
Capitol Police charged 61 protesters with disorderly conduct, a spokeswoman said. An additional nine were charged with obstruction or “crowding.”
Kavanaugh notably name-checked Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court who was stonewalled by Republican senators ahead of the 2016 election. Garland is currently a colleague of Kavanaugh’s on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
“I have served with 17 other judges, each of them a colleague and a friend, on a court now led by our superb chief judge, Merrick Garland,” Kavanaugh said. That gesture was bound to fall on deaf ears with Democrats who view the entire confirmation process as unnecessarily hurried to get Trump a second seat on the high court in two years.
“When Justice Scalia died, Republicans refused to even meet – even a meeting in their office – with President Obama’s nominee and held the seat open for one year,” Feinstein said in her opening statement. “Now, with a Republican in the White House, they’ve changed their position.”
While Democrats recognize their limited power to stop Kavanaugh’s nomination, they’re still using the confirmation process to score political points, especially given the stakes — Kavanaugh would likely bend the court significantly to the right, given that he’s replacing retired justice Anthony Kennedy, who long served as a swing vote.