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 TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could MORE’s nominee outright.

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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 RosensteinGraham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears 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 GrassleySenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE (R-Iowa) gaveled in the panel.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: New York says goodbye to Amazon's HQ2 | AOC reacts: 'Anything is possible' | FTC pushes for record Facebook fine | Cyber threats to utilities on the rise O’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation 2020 Dems slam Trump's plan to declare national emergency 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 HatchOrrin 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 Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Utah Senate votes to scale back Medicaid expansion | Virginia abortion bill reignites debate | Grassley invites drug execs to testify | Conservative groups push back on e-cig crackdown 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 CruzO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown For 2020, Democrats are lookin’ for somebody to love MORE (R-Texas) joked that the committee members were seeing “a lot of table pounding,” while Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseOvernight Health Care: 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 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears 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 BookerO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation 2020 Dems slam Trump's plan to declare national emergency NBC, CNN to host first two Democratic presidential primary debates 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 FeinsteinFeinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape Bottom Line 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) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick 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 CornynGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration On The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency 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.”