Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation

Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation
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Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Progressives hope to avoid drug-pricing showdown with Pelosi | 'Medicare for All' backers get high-profile hearing | Dems take victory lap after eliminating drug protections in trade deal Justices grapple with multibillion-dollar ObamaCare case Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment MORE was given a hero’s welcome at a large conservative gathering Thursday night in his first public speech since his confirmation to the Supreme Court last year was nearly derailed by sexual assault allegations.

The justice delivered the keynote speech at the Federalist Society’s annual Antonin Scalia Memorial Dinner. He was greeted by a friendly audience of about 2,300 society members and other conservatives, who gave him multiple, lengthy standing ovations.

Kavanaugh showed none of the combativeness that marked his last appearance in the public eye when he emphatically denied multiple sexual assault allegations and attacked Democratic senators questioning his fitness for the nation’s highest bench.

Instead, he focused his remarks on expressing gratitude for his new colleagues at the court and his supporters who stood by him last year as his chances at confirmation almost slipped away.

“My friends paid a heavy price — way too heavy a price. I’m well aware of that and it pains me daily,” Kavanaugh said. “I signed up for what I knew would be an ugly process — maybe not that ugly — but my friends did not. And yet in the midst of it all they stood up and stood by me.”

Kavanaugh has kept a low profile since being confirmed last year following a bitter partisan fight over his nomination. His path to the Supreme Court was nearly blocked when sexual assault allegations emerged, including from Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged in a widely watched hearing that Kavanaugh had tried to rape her when the two were in high school in the 1980s.

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Inside the main hall of Union Station, Kavanaugh was welcomed with open arms. But outside, large groups of protesters — including some dressed as handmaids — braved the cold to picket just a few feet away from the long line of tuxedoed attendees. Protesters chanted “shame!” and “I believe Dr. Ford” at the line of people waiting to get in that wrapped around Union Station.

The liberal judicial activist group Demand Justice parked a large screen in the Union Station plaza to play clips of Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year detailing the alleged assault.

And as Kavanaugh began his remarks, protesters inside the large train hub tried to drown him out by blowing loud rape whistles.

Still, the mood inside the hall was celebratory. The crowd gave standing ovations to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play House Democrats to vote on flavored e-cigarettes ban next year MORE (R-Ky.) and President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE’s former White House counsel Don McGahn as they celebrated the president’s progress in remaking the judiciary.

The swanky dinner came on the same day that the Senate confirmed a controversial nominee to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Steven Menashi, in a 51-41 vote largely along party lines. The appointment secured a majority of the 2nd Circuit — which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont — for Republican-appointed justices.

Trump and the Republican Senate majority have gotten 162 federal judges confirmed, already outpacing every other recent president.

Unlike the other speakers, Kavanaugh did not gloat over the parade of judicial nominees that have made their way through the Senate or heap praise on Trump, who just hours before had asked the Supreme Court to stop the Manhattan district attorney’s office from subpoenaing his tax returns. But he did hint that he believed the courts were headed in the right direction.

"I am optimistic about the future of America and our independent judiciary," Kavanaugh said.