Centrist Dems defend tough tactics at Kavanaugh hearing

Centrist Dems defend tough tactics at Kavanaugh hearing
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats up for reelection in strongly pro-Trump states are defending the aggressive tactics their more liberal colleagues on the Judiciary Committee have used to shed light on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's record.

More moderate Democrats who hail from states that President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE won by double digits in 2016 say they don’t like the lack of civility surrounding this week’s Supreme Court hearings, but they also don’t think liberal colleagues have done anything wrong.

One of those more liberal colleagues, Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders endorses Oakland teachers strike The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation builds for Mueller report Why Georgia is the place for black migration and politics MORE (D-N.J.), caused an uproar on Thursday by making public an email thread that Kavanaugh wrote in 2002, which the Judiciary Committee deemed be "confidential" material.

When Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate plots to avoid fall shutdown brawl Inviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge MORE (Texas) warned that such a serious breach of Senate rules could be punished by expulsion from the Senate, Booker – a likely candidate for president in 2020 – responded: “Bring it.”

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Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal How the border deal came together MORE (D-Mont.), who is up for reelection in November in a state Trump carried by 20 points, argued that Republicans didn’t have a valid reason for putting a "confidential" classification on the documents.

“The information that I got was that there was no reason for it to be confidential. I believe in transparency in government. If it’s confidential, it’s got to be truly confidential. Don’t play the game,” he said.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal Gabbard cites ‘concerns’ about ‘vagueness’ of Green New Deal MORE (W.Va.), another red-state Democrat, said Booker did not appear to violate any rules.

“I saw Cory when his made his statement,” he said. “We’re looking at it. My counsel is looking at that now.”

He argued that he didn’t think the "committee confidential" designation was binding.

“It wasn’t secretive documents. It wasn’t anything. It was just basically a discretion” by Republican senators, Manchin said.

Senate Republicans argue that the decision by centrist Democrats to come to Booker's side Thursday will come back to haunt them as they hit the campaign trail over the next two months leading up to the election.

Republicans plan to make the partisan fighting over Kavanaugh an issue on the campaign trail, while Trump has blasted Democrats over their opposition to his Supreme Court pick and other issues in a series of rallies.

National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Morning Report — Emergency declaration to test GOP loyalty to Trump Don’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall Inviting Kim Jong Un to Washington MORE (R-Colo.) said Thursday that red-state Democrats will have to answer for the antics of their colleagues during the Kavanaugh hearings.

“If you’re a red-state Democrat I think it’s a big challenge for you to try to justify the actions of your colleagues, the behavior of your colleagues, the boorishness of your colleagues,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Trump selects Kelly Craft for United Nations ambassador Union leader says Green New Deal would make infrastructure bill ‘absolutely impossible’ MORE (R-Ky.) also blasted what he called “hysterical stunts” to slow down Kavanaugh.

Liberals on the Judiciary Committee argue that Republicans misapplied the confidential designation with documents for Kavanaugh.

“Just because there’s a Senate rule doesn’t mean it can be misapplied, misconstrued or misused,” argued Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Booker on Thursday morning released four documents comprising a dozen pages in which Kavanaugh had a discussion with colleagues in the George W. Bush administration under the subject line “racial profiling.”

Later in the day, Booker released five more pages of emails that were “considered committee confidential.” 

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Trump tweets video mocking Dems not cheering during State of the Union New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks MORE (D-Hawaii), another member of the panel, tweeted out Kavanaugh documents related to Native Hawaiian programs that were also deemed committee confidential.

These were a few examples of the aggressive tactics Democrats on the Judiciary panel employed this week to protest Republicans handling of the confirmation hearings.

Democrats denounced the release of 42,000 pages of Kavanaugh-related documents on the evening before his first day of hearings and repeatedly interrupted Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes Drug pricing fight centers on insulin MORE’s (R-Iowa) opening statement to vent their anger. 

Blumenthal blasted Grassley’s decision to move ahead with the proceedings this week as “a charade and mockery of our norms.”

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillPoll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell McCaskill: Lindsey Graham 'has lost his mind' Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor MORE (D-Mo.), who also faces a tough race in a state Trump won by 19 points, said Republicans set the tone in 2016 when President Obama nominated Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandGOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab MORE to the Supreme Court and he never got a hearing in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“These are the guys that wouldn’t meet with Merrick Garland. I don’t think most Missourians hold Congress in very high regard period. I don’t think members of the Judiciary fighting for access to documents that have no basis for being withheld — none — is going to be determinative of the document,” she said. 

She argued that if the documents were protected by executive privilege, they shouldn’t have been shared with the Judiciary Committee in the first place.

“First of all, you have to have some basis on which they are confidential. They’re not classified,” she said. “If they’re not classified and not privileged, what are they if not hiding?”

A Republican spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee later sent out an email explaining that some of the documents that Booker made public had been cleared for release early Thursday morning. 

A spokeswoman for Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (D-N.D.), another senator facing a tough reelection bid in a pro-Trump state, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Protesters have regularly disrupted Kavanaugh’s hearing by shouting or screaming out until Capitol Police remove them from the room, often forcing the nominee or the senator asking him a question to wait for the disturbance to end. 

McConnell noted that 66 protesters had been removed from the hearing — some carried out forcibly — as of Thursday morning. Dozens more were arrested earlier in the week.

Centrist Democrats, however, defended the activists for exercising their constitutional rights.

“That’s our country,” Manchin said. “You’re talking to a West Virginian. We’re used to a rumble rally, that doesn't bother us at all.

Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia voted for Trump by 42 points in 2016, added: “That’s part of America. They have the right to protest.”

Tester said, “You got to let the process go. If there’s disruption, you have freedom of speech. You also have to do the confirmation hearing.”