By the end of Thursday’s hours-long Senate hearing, one fact about Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh was abundantly clear: He likes beer.
“I drank beer with my friends,” Kavanaugh told senators in his opening statement, describing his younger days. “Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer.”
Alcohol, specifically how much Kavanaugh drank, was at the center of the Judiciary Committee’s hearing dedicated to assessing the credibility of sexual assault allegations brought against the judge by Christine Blasey Ford.
Ford alleges that she was pinned to a bed by Kavanaugh, who was “stumbling drunk,” at a party when they were both teenagers in the early 1980s. Similarly, the other two women who have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct claim that Kavanaugh was drinking during the alleged events. Former college classmates have used words such as “sloppy” and “frequently, incoherently drunk” to describe Kavanaugh, whose high school senior yearbook page also includes references to drinking and parties.
On Thursday, Kavanaugh firmly proclaimed that he never sexually assaulted anyone.
But when it came to alcohol consumption, his answers became vague and his frustration showed.
In some instances, when faced with questions related to drinking too much, many noticed that Kavanaugh appeared “defensive” and “evasive,” not providing direct answers or throwing questions back at the senators who asked them.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), for example, asked whether his drinking ever caused him to be unable to remember events, and he became insolent.
“You’re asking about blackout. I don’t know, have you?” he said.
Apart from the normal inclination of anyone not wanting to be perceived as an excessive drinker, it’s possible Kavanaugh’s answers were more calculated. Any acknowledgment of excessive drinking and drunkenness would help corroborate the accounts put forth by his accusers of what happened during his high school and college years. The suggestion that he was subject to blacking out could be used to show that he was in no position to know one way or the other what he had allegedly done to Ford. It could have undermined his claims of utter certainty that he never was at the gathering described by Ford.
Attempts to deal with suggestions of drunken behavior began several days ago when Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, sat for a deeply personal interview with Fox News. During the interview, Kavanaugh described himself as a churchgoing scholar-athlete who did occasionally drink beer but had never blacked out.
He returned to the subject in his opening statement: “I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone,” he said.
But when Rachel Mitchell, the Arizona prosecutor tapped by Republican senators to question Kavanaugh and Ford, asked the judge what he considered “too many beers,” Kavanaugh faltered.
“I don’t know,” he said, pausing. “Uh, you know, whatever the chart says — uh, blood-alcohol chart.”
Kavanaugh acknowledged that he was one of the people who might have had “too many beers on occasion,” but then Mitchell asked whether he had ever passed out from drinking.
Stammering, Kavanaugh responded, “Passed out would be no, but I’ve gone to sleep. But I’ve never blacked out. That’s the allegation . . . and that’s wrong.”
“Did anyone ever tell you about something that happened in your presence that you didn’t remember during a time that you had been drinking?” she asked.
“No. . . . We drank beer and . . . so did, I think, the vast majority of people our age at the time. In any event, we drank beer and still do, so, whatever, yeah,” he said, trailing off.
As the hearing went on, Kavanaugh appeared to become increasingly frustrated by questions about his drinking.
Take, for example, when Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) brought up a book written by Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge called “Wasted: Tales of a Gen-X Drunk.” In the book, Judge, who Ford alleges witnessed Kavanaugh attack her, chronicled his recovery from alcoholism, The Washington Post’s Emma Brown reported. While Kavanaugh is not mentioned in the book, there is a character named “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who “puked in someone’s car” and “passed out on his way back from a party.”
Leahy asked Kavanaugh whether he was the person Judge had written about. Kavanaugh did not give a direct answer and engaged in a heated back-and-forth with Leahy.
“Judge Kavanaugh, I’m trying to get a straight answer from you under oath,” Leahy finally said. “Are you Bart O’Kavanaugh that he’s referring to: Yes or no?”
“You’d have to ask him,” Kavanaugh said.
Then Leahy turned to Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry.
“In your yearbook, you talked about drinking and sexual exploits, did you not?” Leahy asked.
“Let me take a step back and explain high school. I was number one in the class,” Kavanaugh said, before Leahy cut him off. The pair started talking over each other until Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) intervened, allowing Kavanaugh to finish answering.
Kavanaugh launched into a lengthy description of his high school activities, which included excelling in academics, playing multiple sports and volunteering.
“Does this yearbook reflect your focus on academics and your respect for women?” Leahy asked. “That’s easy. Yes or no.”
Parts of the yearbook, Kavanaugh said, were treated by students and editors as “farce” and “exaggeration.”
“Yes, of course, we went to parties and the yearbook page describes that and kind of makes fun of it,” he said. “If we want to sit here and talk about whether a Supreme Court nomination should be based on a high school yearbook page, I think that’s taken us to a new level of absurdity.”
The yearbook came up again when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had Kavanaugh decode the slang in his entry — believed to be yet another example of the party culture in which he is accused of partaking — and the inquiry naturally turned to alcohol.
“So the vomiting that you reference in the ‘Ralph Club’ reference: related to the consumption of alcohol?” Whitehouse asked.
Kavanaugh: “Senator, I was the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. I’ve worked my tail off.”
Whitehouse repeated his initial question, and Kavanaugh, talking over him, hastened to claim he already answered it.
“Did it relate to alcohol? You haven’t answered that,” Whitehouse said.
“I like beer,” Kavanaugh said loudly. He added: “Do you like beer, Senator, or not? What do you like to drink?”
As Whitehouse attempted to move on to his next question, Kavanaugh asked again, “Senator, what do you like to drink?”
Kavanaugh’s hostility returned when he engaged with Klobuchar, the Democratic senator, in what was arguably his lowest moment throughout the entire hearing.
Things started smoothly as Kavanaugh praised Klobuchar, saying he has “a lot of respect for” her. He then respectfully listened to Klobuchar explain how her father had “struggled with alcoholism” and is still in Alcoholics Anonymous at 90 years old.
But when she started talking about how Kavanaugh’s freshman year roommate and former college peers had characterized his behavior when drinking, he, once again, became defensive.
He called into question his old roommate’s credibility and launched into a lengthy and tangential story about the dynamics of his freshman year dorm room, until Klobuchar was forced to cut him off to ask her question.
“Was there ever a time when you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened, or part of what happened, the night before?” she asked.
“No, I remember what happened and I think you’ve probably had beer, Senator,” Kavanaugh said, as Klobuchar spoke over him.
Klobuchar: “So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before or part of what happened?”
Kavanaugh: “It’s — you’re asking about, you know, blackout. I don’t know. Have you?”
Klobuchar: “Could you answer the question, Judge? . . . So . . . that’s not happened? Is that your answer?”
Kavanaugh: “Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.”
Clearly uncomfortable, Klobuchar released a short laugh before responding, “I have no drinking problem, Judge.”
“Yeah, nor do I,” Kavanaugh said with a smile.
The exchange was described by The Post’s Jennifer Rubin as “a moment of singular cruelty and disrespect.” On social media, people were both shocked and outraged.
New York Magazine reporter Cristian Farias described it as “surreal.”
When the hearing resumed after a recess, Kavanaugh apologized to Klobuchar.
“She asked me a question at the end that I responded by asking her a question,” he said. He added: “Sorry I did that. This is a tough process. I’m sorry about that.”
Klobuchar accepted the apology.
“I appreciate that,” she said. “I would like to add that when you have a parent that’s an alcoholic, you’re pretty careful about drinking.”