Kavanaugh fight puts Senate on edge of precipice

Kavanaugh fight puts Senate on edge of precipice
© Getty Images

An all-out brawl over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is putting the Senate on the edge of a political precipice, with some lawmakers saying the fight may leave lasting damage.

The palpable tensions spilled onto the Senate floor Wednesday when Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Mattis warns 'ISIS will resurge' without U.S. pressure on Syria MORE (R-Ky.) accused Democrats and the “far left” of “intimidation tactics” and “bullying” as they try to persuade GOP senators to oppose Kavanaugh, whose nomination could come up for a confirmation vote as soon as this week.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The far left tried to bully and intimidate members of this body, Republican United States senators. They’ve tried to bully and intimidate us,” McConnell said. “I want to make it clear to these people who are chasing my members around the hall here or harassing them at the airports or going to their homes, we’re not going to be intimidated by these people.”

Protesters have been staking out senators at various points around Capitol Hill -- at unrelated hearings, their offices and their cars.

The growing confrontations between protesters and Republican senators come after a video of two women confronting GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHow to survive an impeachment Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office? Jeff Flake calls Trump's language 'authoritarian' MORE (Ariz.) at an elevator in the Senate Russell Office building went viral last week.

Flake acknowledged that the encounter influenced his decision to negotiate a one-week timeframe to allow the FBI to investigate the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh. A woman approached him outside of a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Tuesday and thanked him for his decision, telling him that his “voice matters.”

Multiple senators, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPhRMA CEO warns Pelosi bill to lower drug prices would be 'devastating' for industry GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe On The Money: Judge tosses Trump lawsuit over NY tax return subpoena | US, Japan sign trade deals | Trump faces narrowing window for trade deals | NBA sparks anger with apology to China MORE (R-Iowa), have been spotted on Capitol Hill in the past week with police escorts as they go to and from votes. GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds MORE (Maine), a key swing vote, was seen leaving a Senate Aging Committee hearing escorted by police.

Talk of shutting down the hallway outside the hearing room, which would prevent reporters from posing questions directly to Collins, sparked a tense moment between reporters and Capitol Police.

Flake, Collins and GOP Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski warns against rushing to conclusions on Trump impeachment GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   MORE (Alaska) are undecided and viewed as the crucial swing votes on the fight over Kavanaugh, who remains short of the simple majority needed to be confirmed. Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate. 

Murkowski, speaking to reporters as she crossed the street outside the Capitol, characterized the media attention on her as “intense.”

But protests haven’t been limited to swing-vote senators. An anti-Kavanaugh protester repeatedly approached GOP Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerStatue of Chief Standing Bear to be unveiled in Capitol The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow MORE (Neb.), considered a solid “yes” vote, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Another protester pursued GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump 'public charge' rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Bottom Line MORE (Texas), a strong Kavanaugh backer, after a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting. The protester first asked Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later MORE (D-W.Va.), who is undecided on Kavanaugh, if he had seen the Texas Republican. The protester did not attempt to sway Manchin’s vote and instead chased Cornyn up several flights of stairs.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.), who has said he will vote for Kavanaugh, questioned whether some of the tactics are actually hurting the anti-Kavanaugh effort.

“There were two ladies who were pretty aggressive and a guy with a camera. So I talked with them for a fairly prolonged amount of time,” Corker told reporters, recounting his own experience. “Then it was evident that, you know, this wasn’t really about any of that, it was about … trying to create a, you know, a something.”

In addition to confrontations with protestors, senators are publicly tearing each other apart in a flurry of heated floor speeches and letters being released by leadership and rank-and-file lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

McConnell took the latest swing at his Democratic counterparts in a letter he sent to Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE (D-N.Y.), turning down his request for an all-Senate briefing on the FBI’s report into the sexual assault allegations that have have thrown Kavanaugh’s nomination into chaos.

McConnell said Schumer’s request wasn’t allowed under the rules governing supplemental background investigations, but also that, “in all candor,” he believed Democrats were making a bad faith effort to delay the nomination.

“I believe it would be used to further delay this nomination -- a goal about which you and your Democratic colleagues have been abundantly clear and single-minded in pursuing,” McConnell said, adding that Democrats had a “gross mishandling of background material.”

McConnell’s rhetoric has been backed up by his caucus. GOP Sen. David Perdue (Ga.) lashed out at Democrats while standing next to a sign that read “please! Get up in the face of some congress people.” He called their behavior “outrageous and unacceptable” and said they have “gone one tick too far this time."

Cornyn, echoing Kavanaugh’s testimony last week before the Judiciary Committee, said Democrats are on a “search and destroy mission.”

Schumer, meanwhile, blasted McConnell in a floor speech Wednesday, saying his GOP counterpart was spreading “blatant falsehoods” after he blamed Democrats for trying to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.

“It is galling, appalling to hear day after day the majority leader get on his high horse about delay when he almost invented the word when it comes to judicial nominations,” Schumer said. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSchiff should consider using RICO framework to organize impeachment We need answers to questions mainstream media won't ask about Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Syria fallout MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, hit back at both Trump and Republicans after the president appeared to mock Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s first accuser, during a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night. Feinstein characterized Trump’s comments as “appalling” and “cruel.”

The Senate’s wounds over the Supreme Court go back years. 

Republicans are quick to argue that Democrats set the stage for the current fight when they nixed the filibuster for lower court judicial nominations in 2013. Democrats counter that it's “hypocritical” for Republicans to move so quickly on Kavanaugh when they kept a Supreme Court seat open for months under President Obama. 

McConnell downplayed the tensions, noting on Tuesday that the Senate has had some “rough” confirmation battles in the past. But senators are openly questioning how long it will take for the Senate to recover for the months-long, partisan, bitter brawl over Kavanaugh.

“I don't know how we get back,” Flake, who’s retiring in early January, said at a conference hosted by The Atlantic.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, added separately that "it's going to take the Senate a while to get over the conduct here of our colleagues."