Tuesday morning marked the beginning of Senate Confirmation Hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to replace the retiring Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Democrats brought the planned proceedings to a halt from the opening minute, repeatedly accusing Republicans on the panel of withholding key information about a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
“Understand where we’re coming from—it’s not to create a disruption. It’s not to make this a very bad process,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the panel. Democrats, she said, were asking only for “time to do our work.”
At issue were thousands of documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s time in the White House that Democrats said have been improperly withheld by the Trump Administration. Democrats on the panel also said they received tens of thousands of pages the evening before the start of the hearing.
“What is the rush?” said Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat. “What are we trying to hide by not having those documents up front?”
Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks during the first day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday. Photo: brendan smialowski/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Mr. Grassley vowed that the panel would press on with the hearing. “Maybe it’s not going exactly the way the minority would like it to go,” Mr. Grassley said.
He defended the approach that he has taken as chairman, saying hundreds of thousands of pages have been made available, which he said compares favorably with previous confirmation hearings.
Still, Mr. Grassley indulged the freewheeling, hour-plus-long debate over access to documents, saying that the committee could stay over the weekend or longer to finish the hearing if necessary.
In the first hour of the session, police removed 22 protesters from the room, sometimes forcibly. They will be charged with disorderly conduct, according to a Capitol Police spokeswoman.
Depending on whose math you are using, the Democrat side objected or interrupted the proceedings something like 60 times in the opening hour, including a persistent attempt by Sen. Blumenthal to get an adjournment vote. That, too, was interrupted by protestors.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 4, 2018
But however you view the proceedings, the truth is the outcome is not in doubt.
Two events ensured how this will play out, long before Kavanaugh was the nominee. The first was the much debated and now infamous “nuclear option” of changing the voting threshold on judges. Aaron Blake recaps in The Washington Post:
Here’s a quick refresher.
In 2013, while facing a controversial blockade of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees by filibustering GOP senators, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) decided to go “nuclear.” He effectively eliminated the 60-vote threshold for non-Supreme Court nominees, thereby allowing Democrats to confirm Obama’s nominees with a simple majority.
Then the GOP won the Senate in 2014. With their majority, Republicans forged another, unprecedented election-year blockade of Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland to succeed the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Then, in 2016, Trump won the presidency.
Trump nominated Gorsuch, a young, controversy-free conservative judge who seemed to be out of Central Casting. He
was the kind of nominee who has generally sailed to confirmation — and, in fact, was unanimously confirmed by voice vote to an appeals court position in 2006.
Gorsuch also would not technically have shifted the court to the right, given that Scalia had anchored the court’s conservative flank for decades. But Democrats were upset. They were perhaps quite understandably sore about the GOP’s bogus justifications for blocking Garland and about Trump’s shockingly winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote. Strategy gave way to the emotion of the moment, and they gave their base the filibuster it demanded.
Then-Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), right, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) talk to reporters in 2016. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
They filibustered even though it seemed obvious that Republicans would just invoke the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominees, as Reid had for other nominees. They filibustered knowing it was almost certainly an exercise in futility. And they filibustered knowing it would probably take the filibuster off the table for a situation just such as this: when the balance of the court actually is at stake.
That lead to the now famous speech by Mitch McConnell, then Minority Leader, to the Democrats: “You will regret this, and you will come to regret it a lot sooner than you think.”
Which came about when the Republicans took control of congress, then retained it along with President Trump winning the White House. This second event made any nomination by President Trump a foregone conclusion. Democrats, already upset over the holding of the Merrick Garland nomination, suddenly found themselves on the wrong end of the math.
And here we now are. With a looming midterm election in which Democrats are expected to do well, their base is demanding more action than the senators on the Judiciary Committee can deliver. Add in at least two 2020 POTUS aspirants on the dais in Senators Harris and Booker, respectively, and the volume is assured to be even louder. But volume does not trump math. The Democrats do not have the votes, and barring something very unforeseen there will be a vote on Judge Kavanaugh some time in the next 30 days or so.
There are some interesting sub-plots, especially among red-state Democrats that are up for election in November like Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitcamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.), all of whom voted to confirm Justice Gorsuch. But such drama is just that, subplot. This movie will end like the Gorsuch show did, the outcome having been scripted with the 2016 election results. Everything between now and then is just show.