I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, September 28, 2018. 39 days until Election Day 2018. 767 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Partisan warfare comes into the open at emotional Kavanaugh hearing
In a nine-hour hearing on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard diametrically opposed versions of events from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, as the former asserted that she was "one hundred percent" certain that he assaulted her in the 1980's and the latter maintaining the same degree of certainty in strenuously denying her accusation.
Ford described her story in vivid detail for the committee, emotionally recounting the alleged incident that had lifted the California professor from anonymity to the halls of Congress. "I am here today not because I want to be," she said. "I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school."
She then repeated the accusation that, by then, each of the senators were familiar with: at a gathering of teens in the summer of 1982, the future Supreme Court nominee and his friend Mark Judge pushed her into a bedroom, pinned her to the bed, and Judge egged Kavanaugh on as he drunkenly attempted to remove Ford's clothes. "I believed he was going to rape me," Ford told the committee.
Ford also accused Kavanaugh of covering her mouth to stop her from screaming, which she said "has had the most lasting impact on my life," leading to decades of PTSD-like symptoms after fearing that Kavanaugh "was accidentally going to kill me."
"Indelible in the hippocampus," the psychology professor testified, her voice cracking, "is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense."
Kavanaugh, meanwhile, delivered an equally emotional defense of his character, denying Ford's allegations and those of other women accusing him of sexual assault. Kavanaugh went on to label the confirmation process "a national disgrace," accusing Democrats of staging a "coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my good name" and replacing "advice and consent with search and destroy."
During Kavanaugh's testimony, the partisan warfare that often creeps in the background of Supreme Court confirmation hearings came fully into focus. "This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit," he testified, "fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups."
The hearing took a sharply rancorous turn in the afternoon after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) launched into a tirade defending the nominee. "This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics," a red-faced Graham declared, saying that his Democratic colleagues were hoping to "destroy this guy's life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020."
Asked by Graham to describe his experience since Ford's allegation became public, Kavanaugh testified: "I've been through hell and then some."
After Graham used his time to excoriate his Democratic colleagues, the subsequent Republican senators questioned Kavanaugh themselves, after ceding their time to former Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mtichell during the questioning of Ford.
The hearing also veered into uncomfortable territory at times, as members of the "world's greatest deliberative body" turned to discussion of the nominee's high school drinking habits and yearbook entries mentioning terms such as "boofing" and "devil's triangle." Kavanaugh offered more innocuous definitions for the terms than the more sexual ones that have been offered by many in recent days.
Questioning the judge about his drinking, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked Kavanaugh if he had ever drank to the point of blacking out. "Have you?" he responded, throwing the question back at his inquisitor. "I'm curious if you have." Kavanaugh later apologized to the Minnesota Democrat for his reaction. "This is a tough process," he explained.
According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump was "absolutely furious" during the morning half of the hearing, angered by Mitchell's line of questioning and fearful that Ford "came off as compelling and credible." However, he was reassured later in the afternoon, "riveted" by Kavanaugh's passionate testimony. "Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him," Trump tweeted.
However, the president does not have a vote in the Senate, where the fate of Kavanaugh's nomination remains in question. Less than 24 hours after listening to both Ford and Kavanaugh testify, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nominee's confirmation today. The panel is composed of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, with just one GOP senator — Jeff Flake (R-AZ) — still undecided. Even if Flake votes "no" in committee today, Kavanaugh's nomination will advance to the floor (but with an unfavorable recommendation from the Judiciary panel). Republicans plan to then hold a procedural vote around noon on Saturday, followed by a cloture vote on Monday and a final vote on his confirmation to the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Nearly three months after Kavanaugh was nominated to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy, only a handful of senators have yet to announce how they plan to vote on the nomination, a group of centrists that now boast control over the future of his nomination and thus, over the direction the court. Sens. Flake, Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are the key senators on the Republican side, while Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) are their Democratic counterparts. Collins, Murkowski, Flake, and Manchin huddled for a half-hour in Collins' office after the hearing; as he left the meeting, Manchin reported that they had all yet to make a decision. "We are still talking," he told reporters. "There are no decisions on anything."
One of the key swing senators, Bob Corker (R-TN), announced after the hearing that he would support Kavanaugh, who he said had "conducted himself as well as anyone could expect throughout this process."
Per Politico, Donnelly, Manchin, Murkowski, and Collins are all expected to vote the same way, although it is unclear which way any of them are leaning.
"They both did well and he offered a defense like you would expect from someone who felt that they were wrongfully accused and she offered compelling testimony as well," Flake told reporters Thursday, seeming torn.
Flake, however, agreed with his Republican colleagues that it was important to continue with the process, declining to join Democratic calls for additional delays. Democrats spent much of the hearing urging Kavanaugh or the GOP majority to request that the FBI open a background investigation into Ford's claim, while also underscoring the importance of testimony from Mark Judge, who Ford testified was present for her alleged assault. Judge has refused to testify before the Judiciary Committee, but he sent the panel a letter on Thursday repeating that he does "not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony." The non-partsian American Bar Association, which previously unanimously endorsed Kavanaugh's nomination, also called for a delay late Thursday night, urging the committee wait until a "careful examination of the accusations and facts" had been carried out by the FBI.
However, Republicans appear determined to push forward with the nomination. "It would be imprudent, unfair, and unjust to delay proceedings even further on the basis of uncorrobrated allegations which have been weaponized by others at the last minute for political purposes," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement.
During her testimony, Dr. Ford described her initial hesitance coming forward, which led to a months-long delay before her allegation came to light just as Kavanaugh's confirmation process was wrapping up. Ford said that she feared she "would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway."
Indeed, Ford jumped in front of the train on Thursday; whether she was able to divert its direction is yet to be seen.
White House schedule
POTUS: At 11:15am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 12pm, he signs H.R. 6157 into law, the $855 billion spending bill that funds the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for the fiscal year while keeping the rest of the government open through December 7. (The full appropriations bill for energy and water, military construction and Veterans Affairs, and the legislative branch was already signed last week, so those parts of the government are also funded through the fiscal year.)
At 1:50pm, President Trump meets with President Sebastián Piñera of Chile. According to the White House, the two leaders will discuss a "shared commitment to pro-growth policies, combating corrupt and illicit networks, strategic partnerships in energy and cyber security, and efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela."
VP: Vice President Mike Pence has no scheduled public events today.
Senate: The upper chamber will convene at 2pm today. The Senate is expected to vote on funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is set to expire on Sunday, September 30. The chamber will either vote on a House-passed bill that extends funding through December 7 or approve a five-year authorization that also includes Hurricane Florence relief.
House: The lower chamber is set to vote on a bicameral, bipartisan compromise measure to combat the opioid epidemic. The legislation "contains a mix of law enforcement and public health measures, including one that aims to block deadly fentanyl from being imported through the mail and one that will allow more nurses to prescribe medication for opioid addiction," as well as a provision that "could make it easier for Medicaid recipients to get inpatient care for substance abuse over the next five years," according to the New York Times.
The House is also expected to vote on a key plank in the GOP's "Tax Reform 2.0" agenda, a bill that would make permanent the individual tax cuts passed in last year's landmark tax law.
*All times Eastern