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 ShelbyIn-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (Ala.) told reporters that he found Ford to be “credible.” Meanwhile, GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape 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 Devi HarrisHarry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Warren offers plan to repeal 1994 crime law authored by Biden Sanders leads Democratic field in Colorado poll 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 GrahamTwo-thirds of Republicans support 'red flag' gun laws: NPR poll Red flag laws won't stop mass shootings — ending gun-free zones will Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid 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 John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems 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 FlakeArpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress 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 MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief Congress kicks bipartisan energy innovation into higher gear MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move 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 ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects 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.”