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 GrassleySmaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown MORE (R-Iowa) and other GOP senators, Democrats largely remained silent as Republicans questioned President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE’s second nominee to the high court.

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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 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 GrahamCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Warren: Officials have duty ‘to invoke 25th amendment’ if they think Trump is unfit 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 RubioRubio in Colombia to push for delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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 CornynOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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 SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration 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 DurbinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump praises law enforcement response to shooting at Illinois business Five dead in shooting at manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois 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 WhitehouseDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech 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.”