Five takeaways on Kavanaugh and Ford’s testimony

Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh combined to provided one of the most dramatic and memorable hearings in Senate history on Thursday.

Millions watched on cable television as Blasey Ford held the Senate Judiciary Committee rapt with her account of a sexual assault on her as a teenager that she says was carried out by Kavanaugh.

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The Supreme Court nominee hours later offered an angry and indignant response, ripping Senate Democrats for their attacks on his character and denying Ford’s accusations.

Here are five takeaways.

Ford came off as credible

As Ford wrapped her testimony, both sides praised the 51-year-old professor for being credible and effective under hours of interrogation by senators and Rachel Mitchell, the lawyer hired to question her on behalf of Republicans.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill MORE (Ala.) told reporters that he found Ford to be “credible.” Meanwhile, GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 GOP senator and member of the committee, told reporters he “found no reason to find her not credible.”

Ford’s testimony left Republicans grim faced, and commentators on Fox News pronounced it a disaster for the GOP.

Democrats rallied behind her, with Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisKamala Harris and our shameless politics Pelosi: House Democrats 'ready to work with' Biden on eviction ban Meghan McCain predicts DeSantis would put Harris 'in the ground' in 2024 matchup MORE (D-Calif.), a 2020 White House candidate, telling Ford: “I believe you and I believe many Americans across this country believe you.”

Kavanaugh’s aggressive tact paid off

Ford’s testimony was so powerful and so good, commentators said Kavanaugh really needed to deliver.

He did with a forceful denial notable for its passion and indignation.

Kavanaugh was visibly angry, red faced and appeared to be at times on the verge of yelling at senators as he began his opening statement.

He ripped the committee process, and specifically Democrats, calling the attacks a “national disgrace,” and saying senators had gone from “advise and consent to search and destroy.”

It seemed to light a fire under the GOP, as some panel members began laying into Democrats themselves.

No one was more fiery than Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (R-S.C.).

“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020. You’ve said that not me,” Graham told committee Democrats in his viral video moment.

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for,” he then said, turning to Kavanaugh. “When you see [Supreme Court justices] Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said ‘Hello,’ cause I voted for them.”

Before Kavanaugh’s testimony, his confirmation was teetering. Afterward, he immediately had new life.
The final stamp of approval came from President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE. A White House official told The Hill that the president was pleased with his performance.

The GOP’s outside counsel didn’t really work

Republicans hired a female outside counsel to question Ford and Kavanaugh as they tried to avoid the optics of 11 male senators questioning the 51-year-old professor, a setup that would have been compared to Anita Hill being questioned in 1991 by an all-male Judiciary Committee.  

But the counsel, Rebecca Mitchell, failed to really poke holes in Ford’s testimony, and at times appeared to help her.

Fox News’s Chris Wallace said more than an hour into the hearing that Democrats were “scoring points” but Mitchell “hasn't laid a glove” on Ford. And Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano on Fox News that Republicans “made a grave error,” by allowing Mitchell to “craft her questioning the way she did.”

It’s possible things would have gone worse without Mitchell, since that would have led to the scenes of the all-male GOP panelists questioning Ford.

Regardless, as Kavanaugh gained momentum through his own testimony, Mitchell disappeared from the hearing.

Starting with GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Republican members one-by-one asked Kavanaugh their own questions, a move that gave them the chance to also try to defend him.

Mitchell declined to answer questions after the hearing.

Grassley looks defensive

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grasley (R-Iowa) began the hearing on the defensive and remained that way throughout.

Grassley interjected and interrupted during both Ford and Kavanaugh's questioning, often sparring with Democratic senators over criticisms of his committee.

During his opening remarks, Grassley lamented how Democrats had treated the allegations from Ford, doubling down on his accusation that Feinstein “took no action” after receiving Ford’s letter alleging the Kavanaugh attack in July.

“We did not know about the ranking member’s secret evidence” during Kavanaugh's lengthy vetting process, he said.

He addressed the allegations from two other women publicly accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, saying his staff had put in “eight requests” for evidence from Deborah Ramirez and “six requests” for evidence from Julie Swetnick.

Grassley spoke up throughout the hearing to staunchly defend the committee's actions, speaking over other senators when they posed criticisms of him or his staff.

He also went after Feinstein several times, including interrupting when she began her opening remarks by saying she wanted to introduce Ford because “the chairman chose not to do this.”

“By the way, I was going to introduce her, but if you want to introduce her I’ll be glad to have you do that,” he said. “But I want you to know I didn’t forget to do it because I would do that just as she was about to speak.”

Focus shifts again to undecideds

While the testimony from both witnesses could have an impact on the midterm elections and beyond, the immediate concern is whether Kavanaugh will get to 51 votes.

A handful of senators in both parties are undecided, and only they know whether their minds were changed by Thursday’s events.

Republicans hold a razor-thin 51-seat margin in the Senate, meaning they can only lose one GOP senator before they need help from Democrats for Kavanaugh to be confirmed.

GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (Ariz.), the only undecided vote on Judiciary, told reporters half-way through Thursday's hearing that he remained undecided on if he would support Kavanaugh.

GOP Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Sarah Palin says she's praying about running for Senate against Murkowski Graham says he has COVID-19 'breakthrough' infection MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Schumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget MORE (Maine) also remain undecided.

Republican senators sidestepped saying on Thursday if they believe they have the votes for Kavanaugh to be confirmed.

GOP Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal Seven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 GOP senator, Thune told reporters that Ford’s testimony had not upheld the burden of proof after he heard Kavanaugh.

“The question of whether or not is was him, there just isn’t the evidence to support that,” Thune said of Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh. “The burden of proof had to be reached and I don’t think they reached that burden.”