Senate

Centrist Dems defend tough tactics at Kavanaugh hearing

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 Trump 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 Booker (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 Cornyn (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."

Sen. Jon Tester (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 Manchin (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 Gardner (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 McConnell (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 Hirono (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 Grassley'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 McCaskill (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 Garland 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 Heitkamp (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." 

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