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 TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border 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 Jay RosensteinEx-Trump aide: Can’t imagine Mueller not giving House a ‘roadmap’ to impeachment Rosenstein: My time at DOJ is 'coming to an end' Five takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump 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 GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes Drug pricing fight centers on insulin MORE (R-Iowa) gaveled in the panel.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOvernight Energy: Natural gas export project gets green light | Ocasio-Cortez says climate fight needs to address farming | Top EPA enforcement official to testify Sanders endorses Oakland teachers strike News media has sought to 'delegitimize' Tulsi Gabbard, says liberal journalist 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 GarlandGOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab 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 HatchThe FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate Orrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab 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 CruzInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge O’Rourke not ruling out being vice presidential candidate MORE (R-Texas) joked that the committee members were seeing “a lot of table pounding,” while Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseThe Hill's Morning Report — Emergency declaration to test GOP loyalty to Trump Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Push for cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill | Court lets Dems defend ObamaCare | Flu season not as severe as last year, CDC says Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown 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 BookerSanders endorses Oakland teachers strike The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation builds for Mueller report Why Georgia is the place for black migration and politics 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 FeinsteinKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Feinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape 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) ManchinOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal Gabbard cites ‘concerns’ about ‘vagueness’ of Green New Deal MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (Ind.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction 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 CornynSenate plots to avoid fall shutdown brawl Inviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge 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.”