Durbin cuts off Cruz as tempers flare: ‘You have to follow the rules’

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
Greg Nash

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) cut off Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the midst of a series of questions about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s handling of child pornography cases, a subject that Cruz and fellow White House hopeful, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), have focused on extensively.  

Durbin and Cruz got into a testy exchange after Durbin banged his gavel and informed his colleague that his 20 minutes of allotted time had expired. Cruz protested that Durbin had taken up some of his time by interjecting during his increasingly tense back and forth with Jackson.   

Durbin at one point even advised Jackson that she didn’t need to answer Cruz’s questions because the Republican senator kept on interrupting her when she provided answers that didn’t directly address the details of the cases he was talking about.  

“You’re not recognized, senator,” Durbin told Cruz when he pressed the nominee to answer why she sentenced the defendant in United States v. Stewart to roughly half the time in prison that prosecutors recommended.  

“You don’t want her to answer that question?” Cruz asked. 

“You wouldn’t allow her —” Durbin shot back. “You’ve gone over the time, senator, by two minutes.”  

“Because you’ve interrupted me for two minutes, chairman. Will you allow her to answer the question or do you not want the American people to hear why, with someone she described as an egregious —” Cruz said before being interrupted by Durbin again.  

“Why are you not allowing her to answer the question?” Cruz asked with rising irritation. “Chairman Durbin, I’ve never seen the chairman refuse to allow a witness to answer questions.” 

Durbin started banging his gavel to bring Cruz to order, prompting Cruz to exclaim: “Bang it as loud as you want.”  

“I can just tell you at some point you have to follow the rules,” Durbin said, sounding weary after more than 16 hours of questions and answers over two days. He then recognized Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to begin his 20 minutes of questions.  

Earlier in the day, Durbin let Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) run well over his allotted time as he repeatedly pressed Jackson on her decision not to count the use of a computer to view child pornography as an aggravating factor when giving out a sentence.  

But he didn’t give any similar courtesy to Cruz, who spent a good portion of his time Tuesday grilling Jackson about critical race theory and even quizzed her about the book, “Antiracist Baby”, which is on the curriculum at Georgetown Day School, where she serves on the board of trustees.  

Durbin told reporters after the first day of questioning that “there are always a few — and you know who they are — who are going to raise issues in a way that I think crossed the line.”  

Jackson appeared to grow somewhat weary herself after yet another Republican on the committee challenged her forcefully over her sentencing decisions in child pornography cases.

She had a heated exchange about the topic earlier in the day with Graham, who declared pointedly: “I think you’re doing it wrong.”  

When Cruz sought to delve once again into the disturbing details of a few more cases, Jackson told him that he wasn’t going to hear much different than what she had already testified about, hinting that she thought it a little unfair of him to seize on a few chases to characterize her eight-year career as a federal district judge.  

“Thank you senator, I have spoken at length throughout this hearing about these cases. I’ve said what I’m going to say, which is I’ve taken every case seriously. These are very horrible crimes —”  

“I’m asking you specifically about this case,” Cruz said, interrupting her, referring to United States v. Hess, in which Jackson gave the defendant the mandatory minimum sentence of 60 months in prison.  

Jackson reiterated: “I’ve taken every case seriously.”  

“So you’re not going to answer that?” Cruz said, interrupting again.  

Cruz then started poring over the details of the case, such as the defendant having hundreds of images of children and reading Jackson’s comments from the transcript.  

The senator then moved onto another case, United States v. Cooper, though he confused it with United States v. Chazen before correcting himself.  

“Why did you sentence someone who had child pornography of toddlers being sexually abused to 28 months, 64 percent below what the prosecutors asked for?” Cruz demanded.   

Jackson implied that Cruz was looking at a small fraction of her record. 

“You’ve picked out, I don’t know, seven, eight cases. I’ve sentenced more than 100 cases. In every case, I look at the evidence, I look at the recommendations of not just the government because my duty as a judge is to consider all of the arguments that are made in a case,” she said. “I talk to the defendants about the harms they have engaged in.” 

Cruz cut in: “Hey judge, with respect, you’re not answering my question,” he said.  

She again declined to provide her rationale for that specific case. 

“Senator, I’ve said what I’m going to say about these cases. No one case can stand in for a judge’s entire record,” she began saying before Cruz cut her off. 

That’s when Durbin jumped in, with exasperation in his voice. “Senator, will you please let her respond?” he said.  

Cruz replied: “No, not if she’s not going to answer my questions.” He then told Durbin: “You are not taking my time. If you want to filibuster, you’re welcome to do so but do it on your own time.” 

Durbin retorted: “I would at least give you an opportunity to speak, and you should give her an opportunity to respond.” 

Durbin and Cruz clashed again after another several rounds of questioning when Cruz tried to enter into the record a letter to the chairman signed by 10 GOP senators protesting the lack of access to probation reports.   

Durbin refused to recognize Cruz and instead called on Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) to begin her questions.  

When Cruz protested, Hirono said: “I believe he recognized me.”  

Then Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the longest serving Democrat on the committee, jumped in.  

“Mr. Chairman, I have waited my turn and I’ve been on this committee for 47 years. I think we ought to follow the regular order,” he said in a gravelly voice. 

Durbin ignored Cruz and told him he was speaking out of turn. 

Updated at 5:39 p.m.

Tags Chris Coons Dick Durbin Josh Hawley Ketanji Brown Jackson Ketanji Brown Jackson Lindsey Graham Mazie Hirono Patrick Leahy Ted Cruz

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