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Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in ahead of testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee.
Reuters/Tom Williams
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WONDERLAND

Senate judiciary committee Republicans are intent on confirming Kavanaugh

Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

The Senate judiciary committee is pressing on.

The 11 Republicans on the committee showed they remain intent on moving forward today (Sept. 28) with Donald Trump’s US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, despite allegations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford, who testified in a grueling session yesterday. The 10 Democrats have called for further investigations. The panel’s vote on whether to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, now scheduled for 1:30pm US eastern time, seems likely to be split along party lines—showing the session yesterday likely was just an empty exercise.

“Yesterday’s hearing was not a trial but trials have rules based on fundamental notions of fairness and due process,” said the committee chief, Republican senator Chuck Grassley. “It was only fair that his accuser had the burden of proof, and in my opinion it wasn’t met…There’s simply no reason to deny Judge Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court.” Though Grassley said he found Blasey Ford credible, he noted that “three witnesses” denied her version of the facts. 

Ranking Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein said, “I’m very disappointed we’re here today voting on this motion.” Feinstein said Kavanaugh “went on the attack.” She accused him of being political. “He even went so far as to say that Dr. Ford’s allegations were nothing more than a calculated political hit.” Feinstein said Kavanaugh did not demonstrate the temperament of a judge, calling him “belligerent.”

“This isn’t a political battle for power, as some have said,” Feinstein argued. The Republican strategy is to “ignore the victim,” she contended. She called the Kavanaugh vote “a real test for the US Senate and for our country, to see how we treat women and especially women who are victims of sexual assault.”

Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, said the time for that is up. “We can’t allow more time for new smears to damage Judge Kavanaugh,” he said. “It’s time to end the circus…we’ve had enough time on this to choke a horse.”

Democrats expressed deep frustration.

“It feels like Alice in Wonderland around here today…” said Patrick Leahy of Vermont. ”It’s almost surreal. This judiciary committee is no longer an independent branch of government…we are an arm and a very weak arm of the Trump White House. Every semblance of independence has just disappeared. It’s just gone. that is something historians will look at and they will call it a turning point in this country.”

Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal had moved to subpoena Mark Judge, allegedly involved in the assault, ahead of any committee vote. “Everyone was riveted and powerfully impressed” by Christine Blasey Ford’s truth, he said. Grassley responded by reading a letter Judge wrote denying knowing anything. Blumenthal’s motion was defeated 11-10 along party lines.

If approved by the committee, Kavanaugh’s nomination could move to a full vote by the Senate as soon as next week. Republicans hold a razor-thin 51-49 majority in the full chamber. The nomination will rest with a few potential swing votes—including Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. They met with each other privately yesterday immediately after the dramatic day of testimony by Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, but did not indicate where they stood.

On Monday, Murkowski told the New York Times, “We are now in a place where it’s not about whether or not Judge Kavanaugh is qualified. It is about whether or not a woman who has been a victim at some point in her life is to be believed.”

If confirmed, Kavanaugh will give right-leaning judges on the high court a solid 5-4 majority, with potentially huge repercussions for the legality of abortion and even the possible impeachment of Donald Trump. Until yesterday, the judge steadfastly maintained that he would be a fair and impartial justice, unmoved by politics, and made a pretty convincing case.

Yesterday, however, Kavanaugh revealed a side of himself that should give left and right alike pause. He was furious, belligerent, emotional, petulant, tearful, and contentious. He may have convinced Republicans, including Trump, that he was credible. But as Feinstein noted, he did not show the cool and even-handed temperament that’s necessary for a justice on the highest court in the land.

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