GOP pushes ahead after wrenching day of Ford, Kavanaugh testimony

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As Republicans in the Senate moved a step closer to confirming Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh early next week, many on Capitol Hill – and in the nation – were still digesting the riveting testimony of both Judge Kavanaugh, and his accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged that Kavanaugh sexually attacked her at a party in the summer of 1982, a charge Kavanaugh sternly denied.

In the wake of the hearing, it was quickly obvious that few minds were changed in the Senate after the testimony, as Republicans said there was no need for further delay on the Kavanaugh nomination.

“We processed this in the way that was the most responsible,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). “We got the evidence before the committee, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Democrats saw Kavanaugh’s testimony differently.

“I will vote no on Judge Kavanaugh,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is in a tough re-election fight.

Here’s some thoughts on what happened, and what’s next in the Kavanaugh confirmation.

1. GOP confidence that they have the votes to confirm. It should not surprise anyone that Republicans feel like they have the votes to put Judge Kavanaugh on the U.S. Supreme Court. I looked at this week in the shadow of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings from 1991 – even after that public tussle which captivated the nation, the Senate still voted 52-48 to confirm Thomas. Yesterday’s hearing was like a condensed version of the two day Thomas-Hill blockbuster, as each party dug in behind the version of events that they believed. Late on Friday night there seemed to be a quiet confidence among Republicans, much of it generated by the spirited statement made in the committee on Thursday by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Instead of a special GOP lawyer asking questions of the judge, Graham was pointing his finger and yelling at Democrats across the dais. It set a tone for the GOP and signaled that Republicans were coming together behind Kavanaugh, and against the Democrats.

2. The parliamentary schedule is rather simple for Kavanaugh. Yes, there are still some twists and turns along the road for Judge Kavanaugh, but with approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, the next few days would be pretty straightforward on the Senate floor. If Republicans can get at least 50 votes – and the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence – then Judge Kavanaugh will become Justice Kavanaugh by next Tuesday. On Saturday, Democrats are likely to force a series of procedural votes, as the Senate will have its first test vote, on the ‘motion to proceed’ to the Kavanaugh nomination. The Majority Leader will then file ‘cloture’ to cut off debate on the Kavanaugh nomination. That cloture vote would take place on Monday. If that passes, then a final vote on the nomination would probably happen by Tuesday evening. Republicans just need a majority, and right now they would be favored to do exactly that.

3. “Revenge of the Clintons” will live on for years. If there is one thing which may be thrown back at Kavanaugh if he is confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, it may well be his overt political accusations against Democrats and his opponents in his blistering opening statement on Thursday. His “revenge of the Clintons” line evidently stemmed in his mind from his work for Ken Starr on the Monica Lewinsky probe. It didn’t surprise Democrats one bit. “He is nothing more than a political operative who lacks the temperament necessary to serve on the Supreme Court,” said Jim Manley, who worked for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Everyone knows that Supreme Court nominees lean one way or the other – that’s why they get picked. But this was the most overt demonstration of politics in all of the nomination hearings that I have covered since the mid-1980’s. It will not be forgotten.

4. What will be the national reaction from Kavanaugh-Ford? In 1991, the intense reaction to the grilling of Anita Hill spurred a number of women to run for office – and win – in 1992, as Democrats labeled it, “the year of the woman.” That backlash was over a year later. This time, the elections are in five-plus weeks. What Republicans fear – and what Democrats are hoping for – is a negative reaction to GOP candidates from women, especially suburban women who were already tepid in their support of President Trump. If there was one moment from Thursday which might have a future political impact, it was when Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) – whose father was an alcoholic – was questioning Kavanaugh about his drinking days, asking if he had ever blacked out. Kavanaugh threw the question back at her, asking if she ever drank too much. After a break, Kavanaugh apologized. But the damage was one. And with some people talking about Klobuchar running for President, this may be an exchange that gets remembered in the longer term.

5. No matter what you think, it was a historic day. When the week began, I told friends that the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing would rival the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. Some of them scoffed at my prediction – but I was right. “This is one of the things you’ll talk about with your grandchildren, and our grandchildren will read about it,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). “This is probably one of the most five interesting days in the U.S. Senate,” he added. I was in the room for Thomas and Hill. I was in the room for Kavanaugh and Ford. I may have been the only reporter to cover both of those hearings in person. You don’t see drama like that up close very often.


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