“Most people in Washington tell you what they do,” Higgins said from behind the bar Tuesday, the day after Trump nominated Kavanaugh. “I never knew Brett was a lawyer. I expect we’ll be seeing him in here a lot less.”
Washington is a city rife with stars of politics, government and the judiciary, many of them migrating to the nation’s capital after growing up and establishing their reputations in far-flung realms.
Yet Kavanaugh is that rare high-profile appointee who is pure Washington, a product of its most prestigious addresses: the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School, where he was taught by Jesuits before attending Yale; the White House, where he was deputy counsel to President George W. Bush; and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Roman Catholic parish just off Chevy Chase Circle, where he and his family attend services.
For more than a decade, Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley, whom he met when she was Bush’s personal secretary in the White House, have lived on the Maryland side of Chevy Chase, an enclave at the center of establishment Washington, with streets lined with million-dollar homes, most of them inhabited by accomplished Democrats.
Yet, at a time when the country is defined by its polarized politics, Kavanaugh’s deep Republican ties — he drew up the grounds for impeaching President Bill Clinton and was part of the legal team that handed Bush the presidency — have not stopped him from blending in with his neighbors. Their comity evokes an earlier era when the two parties could socialize even as they fought ferociously over policy.
Politics is not what comes up when Ashley Kavanaugh, the town manager for their section of Chevy Chase, organizes their neighborhood’s Fourth of July parade, a procession that lasts for all of two blocks and ends with a barbecue.
Her husband, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has been known to help direct traffic at the parade, ready to banter with neighbors about the Washington Nationals, whose games he regularly attends.
Nor does politics arise when Kavanaugh attends 5:30 p.m. Mass on Sundays at Blessed Sacrament, sometimes accompanied by his two daughters, still in the basketball uniforms they wore to games they played — and he coached — that day.
The church has long been the parish for a diverse array of the area’s Catholic elite, from liberal giants such as the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews to conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and William Bennett.
“It doesn’t matter what their affiliation is, they want to know Jesus Christ, and that’s why they’re here,” said the Rev. William Foley, the church’s pastor, who has his own connections to official Washington: His father served a director of the administrative offices of the U.S. courts under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.
Mark Shields, a liberal commentator who serves as an usher at the church, said that what makes the parish “very special” is the way clerical leadership has focused people on service “to those who are less blessed than we are.”
“We don’t give litmus tests. There’s just an assumption that you believe the values and teachings of Christ,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone act like: ‘How can you be here? You’re a baby killer!’ to those who voted for John F. Kerry, or someone saying someone else is anti-immigrant. It’s trying to find out what we have in common rather than applying a litmus test to everyone who comes in the door.”
Still, Monsignor John Enzler, now president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Washington, said he avoided certain subjects when he was a priest at Blessed Sacrament from 2010 to 2014.
“I admit I was careful because you don’t want to set people off. On the other hand, on immigration, I’d definitely speak about that strongly, no matter what,” Enzler said. He said one of the current priests at Blessed Sacrament preaches often on immigration.
Chevy Chase, where the Kavanaughs have lived since 2006, is one of Washington’s most coveted neighborhoods, where the median household income was $146,547 in 2016, according to the most recent census data, and where homes routinely sell for $2 million and $3 million. The Kavanaughs paid $1.2 million for their four-bedroom house, which is nearly 100 years old and is on a street lined with thick trees and lush lawns. At the curb in front of their house on Tuesday was a basketball hoop. An American flag hung outside the entrance.
Gregory Chernack, a Democrat and lawyer who lives around the corner, said he was aware of Kavanaugh’s conservatism but has never had any interest in talking politics with him.
“If I talk to Brett, it’s either about baseball or Springsteen,” said Chernack, who is chairman of the town council for their neighborhood, known as the Village of Chevy Chase, Section 5. “He’s no different than any dad in the neighborhood.”
“I know there are things we disagree on, based on what I’ve read,” Chernack said. “But I also know how eminently qualified he is to do this. He’s the type of Republican you would want the Republicans to nominate.”
Kavanaugh’s wife is the village’s town manager, a job she performs mostly from home at a salary of $66,000. “She is the antithesis of the name-dropper,” Chernack said. “And she doesn’t talk about what her husband does. If I didn’t know it independently, I would never know it.”
The Kavanaughs met in a decidedly Washington way — while both worked at the White House. Their first date was Sept. 10, 2001, the judge said in his speech Monday after Trump announced him as his nominee.
“The next morning,” Kavanaugh recalled, “I was a few steps behind her as the Secret Service shouted at all of us to sprint out the front gates of the White House because there was an inbound plane.”
Sports, not politics
When Kavanaugh was born, his parents lived in the District. His father, E. Edward Kavanaugh, 77, held one of those only-in-Washington titles — president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. In the recesses of C-SPAN’s video archive, the elder Kavanaugh can be found testifying in 1983 before Congress about his industry.
Kavanaugh’s mother, Martha, 76, taught history at two D.C. public schools, H.D. Woodson and McKinley Tech. She went to law school, graduated from American University in 1978 and became a prosecutor in Montgomery County, Md., and then a circuit court judge.
“The president introduced me tonight as Judge Kavanaugh. But to me that title will always belong to my mom,” Kavanaugh said during his remarks Monday. “When I was 10, she went to law school and became a prosecutor. My introduction to law came at our dinner table when she practiced her closing arguments. Her trademark line was: ‘Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?’ ”
As a boy, Kavanaugh and his parents attended Little Flower Parish in Bethesda, a large congregation where Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his family now go. Until high school, Kavanaugh went to Mater Dei, a Bethesda-based Catholic prep school with the motto, “Work hard, play hard, pray hard, but most of all be a good guy!”
The students mostly came from Montgomery County, but the school was intent on teaching them how to get around the city, devoting a week to trips aboard Metro to landmarks such as Smithsonian museums and the Capitol. “Solid, solid, solid,” said Chris Abell, a former Mater Dei teacher, describing Kavanaugh. “He was a stick-to-it kind of guy. Got his work done. He was about as solid as they came.”
As a youngster, Kavanaugh was immersed in the area’s Catholic community, friendly with boys enrolled at schools such as Holy Name and Gonzaga College High School while he was at Georgetown Prep. He and his friends went to Redskins games at RFK Stadium and up to Baltimore for Orioles games.
When they were old enough, they went to bars — Garrett’s and the Third Edition in Georgetown, said Kavanaugh’s childhood friend Scott McCaleb.
In Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep yearbook, he listed himself as the treasurer of the “Keg City Club — 100 Kegs or Bust” and included references to the “Beach Week Ralph Club” and “Rehoboth Police Fan Club.”
But McCaleb said that Kavanaugh was studious, earning good enough grades to attend Yale University and then Yale Law School.
“He was always kind of like an old soul,” McCaleb said. “He was more mature than the rest of us. He was always the guy who was going home to do his homework.”
His reputation for rigor endured into adulthood as Kavanaugh built a résumé brimming with elite Washington titles: clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom he will replace if confirmed; associate counsel for Kenneth W. Starr during Starr’s Clinton investigation; a counsel and staff secretary to Bush, and appeals court judge.
For all of Kavanaugh’s accomplishments, though, his friends say that he has remained steadfast in his commitment to coaching basketball at Blessed Sacrament, his daughters’ school, where he is known as “Coach K.” His team of sixth-graders was undefeated last season and won a citywide championship in the local Catholic youth league.
Kavanaugh would even attend games at another school, Georgetown Visitation, just because he admired the school’s coach.
“I’d show up for a game, and one of the only other people in the stands would be Brett Kavanaugh,” said Tom Conaghan, a lawyer whose daughter played for Kavanaugh at one point. “He’s a quiet coach — you can’t hear him from the other side of the court. He’s very big on teaching the fundamentals of the game.”
After games, Kavanaugh sometimes goes with fellow coaches to the Chevy Chase Lounge. On Monday, a group of his friends gathered beneath the television to watch Trump announce his new nominee.
Peter Gouskos, the owner, said he plans to add a photograph of Kavanaugh to a display of well-known patrons, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, CNN journalist Jake Tapper, and Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri.
Gouskos is pleased for Kavanaugh but promises that when he sees the judge in the future, he will stick to the usual subjects: sports, sports and more sports.
“I’m a Democrat,” the owner said. “I never discuss politics with my customers.”
Ann Marimow and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.