Chaos reigns on day one of Kavanaugh hearings

Chaos reigns on day one of Kavanaugh hearings
© Anna Moneymaker

Senate Democrats and dozens of protesters repeatedly interrupted the first day of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, sparking frustration from Republicans and chaos within the committee room.

Though they are unlikely to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation in the GOP-held Senate, Democrats set the pace for the hearing by sparring, cajoling and pleading with Republicans to delay the hearing or reject President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE’s nominee outright.


A steady stream of protesters contributed to the circus-like atmosphere. By the end of the day, 70 people had been arrested by Capitol Police and 61 people had been taken out of the hearing room. They included actress Piper Perabo of television’s “Covert Affairs.”

Outside the committee’s room, the scene was similarly chaotic, with lines winding down the hallways of the Hart Senate Office building and protesters filling the hallways during a brief recess. More than a dozen demonstrators dressed as characters from Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a reminder that Kavanaugh’s confirmation could tilt the balance of the court against women’s rights.

Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Mueller rejoins DC law firm Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it MORE, the embattled deputy attorney general feuding with congressional Republicans, also caused a frenzied reaction with his entrance to the room.

The hearing went off the rails almost immediately after 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) gaveled in the panel.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRepublicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Klobuchar takes shots at health and education plans supported by Sanders and Warren Kamala Harris to Trump Jr.: 'You wouldn't know a joke if one raised you' MORE (Calif.) became the first Democrat to interrupt Grassley, saying senators could not “move forward” after lawyers for former President George W. Bush handed over 42,000 documents from Kavanaugh’s tenure as a White House lawyer to the committee less than a day before Tuesday’s hearing.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) got into several rounds of back-and-forth with Grassley over the in-the-weeds wording of committee rules as he tried, unsuccessfully, to get Grassley to adjourn the hearing.

Blumenthal warned that without a vote on adjourning the hearing, consideration of Kavanaugh’s nomination “will be tainted and stained forever.”

“There will always be an asterisk after your name: Nominated by a president named as an unindicted co-conspirator after the vast majority of documents relating to the most constructive periods of his life were concealed,” he said to Kavanaugh. “The question will always be, why was all that material concealed?”

The drama-filled, televised scene laid bare the deep frustrations over Kavanaugh’s nomination — and the anger Democrats feel toward the Senate GOP’s blockade of Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandSupreme Court can prove its independence — or its partisan capture The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems seize on Ukraine transcript in impeachment fight Brett Kavanaugh debate exemplifies culture war between left and right MORE, former President Obama’s final nominee to the court. Obama nominated Garland to the court in March 2016, but Republicans refused to give him a hearing.

Republicans said Kavanaugh was being treated unfairly by Democrats and accused the minority of “mob rule” of the committee.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom MORE (R-Utah), a former chairman and current member of the committee, snapped at protesters, calling one a “loudmouth,” as a woman began protesting as Hatch was speaking.

“I don’t know that the committee should have to put up with the type of insolence taking place in this room today,” a visibly annoyed Hatch said as protesters tried to shout over his speech supporting Kavanaugh’s confirmation with chants of “Hell no, Kavanaugh. Hell no, Kavanaugh.”

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz: 'Of course' it's not appropriate to ask China to investigate Bidens Sunday Show Preview: Trump's allies and administration defend decision on Syria O'Rourke raises .5 million in third quarter MORE (R-Texas) joked that the committee members were seeing “a lot of table pounding,” while Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games On The Money: Fed officials saw rising risk of recession | Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz blast NBA for 'outrageous' response to China | Prospects dim for trade breakthrough with China Ocasio-Cortez, Ted Cruz join colleagues blasting NBA for 'outrageous' response to China MORE (R-Neb.) urged his colleagues to drop the “charade” around Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“Congratulations and condolences, this process has to stink,” Sasse told Kavanaugh. “I’m glad your daughters could get out of the room and I hope they still get the free day from school.”

Despite the party-line drama, there were moments of humor in the hearing.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) joked that he and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRepublicans wrestle with impeachment strategy O'Rourke campaign says path to victory hinges on top 5 finishes in Iowa, Nevada O'Rourke raises .5 million in third quarter MORE (D-N.J.) were new to the Judiciary Committee because they “didn’t come here when Moses walked the earth.” Grassley and 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 (D-Calif), the top two senators, are 84 and 85, respectively. 

The hearing got noticeably quiet once Kavanaugh got his chance to speak late in the afternoon.

In his opening remarks Kavanaugh assured the committee he is apolitical, ruling “sometimes for the prosecution and sometimes for criminal defendants” and “sometimes for businesses and sometimes for environmentalists.”

“In each case, I have followed the law. I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences,” said Kavanaugh.

Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate, meaning Democrats need to pick up two GOP senators, as well as keep their entire caucus united, if they want to block Kavanaugh. Several red-state Democrats are viewed as likely “yes” votes after three — Sens. 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 (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Ind.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (N.D.) — voted for Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.

But Democrats are facing intense pressure from progressives who want them to wage an all-out war to try to stop or at least disrupt Kavanaugh’s hearings. Outside groups have fumed as Democrats, widely expected to be “no” votes,” have stayed formally on the fence.

They appeared to get a momentary reprieve as activists and outside groups praised the hard-line tactics deployed by Democrats on the panel.  

The dynamic of a vocal base trying to push the party to the left ahead of 2020 was an undercurrent throughout Tuesday’s hearing. Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Demand Justice, praised Harris, a potential White House contender, saying she was “showing the way. This is what leadership looks like.”

Meanwhile, Republicans seized on a fundraising email sent out by Booker during the hearing. Sasse warned that such tactics would only “make us sicker, not healthier.”

Hatch didn’t mention Booker or Harris by name but fumed that there are “folks who want to run for president, who want their moment in the spotlight. Who want that coveted TV clip.”

But if Democrats were hoping to get a rise out of Grassley, they failed.

The GOP chairman, known for snapping at reporters, held his fire and at times reassured Democrats that he would let them speak.

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), the No. 2 Senate Republican, repeatedly aimed his rhetorical fire at Democrats, comparing their tactics to “mob rule” and urging his colleagues to “get a grip” and “take a deep breath.”

But when he suggested Grassley should crack down on the 10-minute rule for speeches, the Iowa senator declined. He sent a subsequent warning shot to Democrats that he wanted to enforce time limits on Wednesday’s session, which is expected to last 12 hours.

“You guys have been very successful today in running the committee,” Grassley said to Democrats. “I don’t want it to happen tomorrow.”