Dems switch tactics on second day of hearings

Dems switch tactics on second day of hearings
© Greg Nash

Protesters repeatedly interrupted Brett Kavanaugh during the Supreme Court nominee’s second day of confirmation hearings, but Democrats took a gentler tack, letting the nominee speak before challenging him with questions.

After spending most of Tuesday interrupting Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyMcSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case MORE (R-Iowa) and other GOP senators, Democrats largely remained silent as Republicans questioned President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll MORE’s second nominee to the high court.

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Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCalifornia lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe House passes bipartisan bill to create women's history museum MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the committee and the first Democrat to question Kavanaugh, began her 30 minutes with a note of sympathy.

“I’m sorry about the circumstances, but we’ll get through it,” she told Kavanaugh before digging into questions on abortion, gun rights and executive authority.

The morning began with repeated outbursts from protesters shouting “save Roe, vote no” and “no Trump puppet” as Kavanaugh tried to press on and answer the first questions of the day from Grassley.

Feinstein appeared almost collegial with Kavanaugh. When he delivered a lengthy answer to whether a sitting president can be subject to a criminal investigation, she joked that he was trying to “filibuster” the committee.

“You’re very good. You’re learning to filibuster,” she said.

Before lunch, she even shared a light-hearted moment with Kavanaugh after Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: 2020 candidates look to South Carolina Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday MORE (R-S.C.) asked him how he hoped to be remembered “when all is said and done.”

After a moment’s pause, Kavanaugh said, “A good dad. A good judge.”

Feinstein interjected. “A good husband,” she added.

Kavanaugh smiled and nodded in agreement. “A good husband,” he said, as his wife, Ashley, looked on from the front row.

“I owe you,” the nominee told Feinstein.

The shift in tactics from Democrats immediately drew fire from progressives, who have worried for weeks that committee members would treat the hearing as “business as usual” instead of hammering Kavanaugh.

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Demand Justice, in a tweet summed up Feinstein’s opening apology to Kavanaugh as “ridiculous.”

Fallon, referring to a verbal scuffle outside of the Senate Intelligence Committee between Infowars host Alex Jones and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats: It's Trump's world, and we're just living in it Cheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight Peace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback MORE (R-Fla.), said: “Dianne Feinstein would like to apologize to Alex Jones on behalf of Rubio.”

Feinstein is up for reelection this year and faces a challenge from a liberal rival in November.

Democrats’ tactics on Tuesday left Republicans saying the party was kowtowing to the progressive wing of their party.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOcasio-Cortez announces slate of all-female congressional endorsements Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan warnings Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE (R-Texas) added that the confrontational tactics in the committee hearing “backfired.”

“I think it was embarrassing the way they behaved,” he said, “so I think they decided it wasn’t working for them and they better change.”

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said he believed Democrats were disruptive on Tuesday but acknowledged they had mellowed.

“I think there have been people in the audience who have been disruptive,” he said, “and I think that’s unfortunate.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerWhite House preparing to ask Congress for funds to combat coronavirus: report Schumer cites security, DHS ban in questioning TSA use of TikTok Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill MORE (D-N.Y.) faces a dilemma with the Kavanaugh fight, which takes place as Democrats seek to win back the Senate majority.

Several centrist Democrats up for reelection in states won by Trump are expected to back Kavanaugh — and “no” votes could make their reelection efforts more challenging.

Yet Kavanaugh’s arrival on the court, in place of former swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, will almost certainly shift it to the right, fueling calls from the left for Schumer and Senate Democrats to mount an all-out offensive against Trump’s nominee.

There were a few moments of contention between Democrats and Kavanaugh as lawmakers sought to draw him out, with little success, on hot-button social issues including abortion.

Several Democrats tried to get insight into whether Kavanaugh believes a president can be subpoenaed or what he thinks about Trump’s ability to pardon himself or others.

Kavanaugh repeatedly demurred.

“Senator, I’m not going to answer hypothetical questions of that sort,” he said in response to one question about pardons.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe MORE (D-Ill.) pointed directly at Kavanaugh as he sternly questioned his dissent last year from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to allow an immigrant teen in federal custody to obtain an abortion.

Kavanaugh tried to explain that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld state laws requiring parental consent. Because the immigrant was a minor, the government had reasoned the teen should be transferred to an immigrant sponsor with whom she could consult before making her decision.

But Durbin interrupted to note that a Texas court had ruled the teen could make her own decisions about what’s in her best interest. 

“You’ve just bypassed something,” he told the nominee. “You just bypassed the judicial bypass, which she received from the state of Texas when it came to parental consent. That’s already happened here and you’re still stopping her.”

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Democrats pan Trump's budget proposal as 'dead on arrival' Trump unveils .8 trillion budget that backtracks on deal with Congress MORE (D-R.I.) pushed Kavanaugh to give him a simple yes or no on whether it was true he could not give any assurance he would uphold the Affordable Care Act, which requires health insurance companies to provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Kavanaugh, who Whitehouse cut off several times, said he could “enhance” the senator’s understanding if he explained why he couldn’t make that promise.

“I really just want you to say yes or no,” Whitehouse said. “I’m really capable of understanding it on my own.”

Kavanaugh said early and repeated throughout the day that he could not comment on issues or cases that could come before the court, ruling out the chance that he would answer questions on whether he thinks the landmark 1973 abortion rights case Roe v. Wade was rightly decided.

Even as Democrats largely sidestepped directly confronting their GOP colleagues in the committee room, protesters were removed from the room on Wednesday and interrupted senators from both parties.

“You are gaslighting the American people,” one protester yelled at Kavanaugh.

Another chafed at the implication that the protesters were lined up with Democrats, yelling: “Senator Grassley, I take offense. I called out Senator Durbin. ... We are not working with the Democrats.”