On Friday morning, the Senate voted 51 to 49 to allow Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court to proceed toward a final vote. Two senators voted against their parties: Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted no, and Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia voted yes.
The former was a slight surprise; the latter not at all (Manchin’s political survival is built on knowing when not to anger his overwhelmingly Republican constituency). The procedural vote approved 30 hours of debate before a final vote, to be held sometime Saturday, and though it’s possible that any of the senators who voted in favor of this measure could ultimately oppose Kavanaugh and he could lose, it seems unlikely.
One can’t help but wonder if the op-ed Kavanaugh wrote for the Wall Street Journal, which ran under the ludicrous title, “I Am an Independent, Impartial Judge,” had anything to do with persuading the necessary few Republican fence-sitters — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — to come home. Ironically, it’s only by professing to believe in this implausible statement of nonpartisanship that they could comfortably do the most partisan thing.
And it is partisan, let’s not fool ourselves. Not only because the entire atmosphere has become angrily divided along party lines, but because Kavanaugh, himself, has been quite emphatically the most partisan Supreme Court nominee in memory. That was true before he raised his hand and promised to tell the truth, since he spent much of his career as a Republican political/legal operative.
Kavanaugh worked for Kenneth W. Starr to hound President Bill and Hillary Clinton (and famously urged that the questioning of the president to be as lurid and personal as possible on sexual matters), advised the George W. Bush campaign during the 2000 Florida election debacle, and worked in the Bush White House. It was far more likely that this history would have kept him from being nominated than any rumors about him being a nasty, belligerent drunk.
During the first round of his confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh did the usual dance that nominees do about being a neutral umpire calling balls and strikes. But once his nomination was in peril, he made a carefully planned attempt to maintain Republican support by being as partisan as possible. It was smart politics, since he only needs Republican votes — and the more partisan things get, the more difficult it becomes for any GOP senator to anger their base and vote no.
But that testimony was also the most shameful spectacle we have ever seen from a Supreme Court nominee. Kavanaugh shouted down senators, acted like a petulant child, lied repeatedly, and framed his difficulties as the result of a Democratic conspiracy. He claimed to be the victim of:
a calculated and orchestrated political hit, 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.
That was not an emotional outburst said in a moment of distress, but part of his prepared statement, written in advance. And why exactly is the “millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups” supposed to be appalling, when there are right-wing groups spending millions to support his nomination — groups that are outspending those in opposition?
That’s a hallmark of blinkered partisan thinking, that when you and I employ the same tactics, mine are legitimate and yours are not. This morning, conservatives are breathlessly sharing a Wall Street Journal article reporting that Leland Keyser — a friend of Christine Blasey Ford whom Ford says was at the gathering where she was allegedly assaulted by Kavanaugh — felt pressure from Ford’s supporters to state publicly that she believed Ford, though she has said she doesn’t recall the episode in question.
The fact that Ford’s supporters are organizing behind the scenes is supposed to some kind of shocking revelation. But not only do we already know that Kavanaugh’s supporters are doing the same, NBC News reported that Kavanaugh himself is personally involved in trying to mobilize his old friends and acquaintances to make public statements testifying to his sterling character.
But now, Kavanaugh has assured us he will leave all that partisanship behind. Not only that, he wants us to know his venomous testimony was a result only of the fullness of his heart:
My hearing testimony was forceful and passionate. That is because I forcefully and passionately denied the allegation against me. At times, my testimony — both in my opening statement and in response to questions — reflected my overwhelming frustration at being wrongly accused, without corroboration, of horrible conduct completely contrary to my record and character. My statement and answers also reflected my deep distress at the unfairness of how this allegation has been handled.
I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all my daughters.
Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good.
If you have been on social media, you’ve no doubt seen dozens of people say that Kavanaugh’s statement reminded them of what they heard from their abusive fathers, husbands, or boyfriends: starting with “Look what you made me do,” explaining it all away as understandable emotion going a bit too far, and ending with a promise that it will never happen again.
I’m sure Republicans who vote to confirm Kavanaugh will say they think he can be an objective jurist. But do they actually believe it? Do they sincerely think that the man who snarled “What goes around comes around” at Democrats will hear cases brought by Democrats with the utmost fairness and concern only for the Constitution?
Maybe they do. Some people can convince themselves of almost anything.