The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Get a grip’: Republicans seize on Booker comment that Kavanaugh supporters are ‘complicit’ in ‘evil’

Democrats are casting a wide net in their attacks on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
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Sen. Cory Booker’s statement that supporters of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh are “complicit” in “evil” drew criticism from senior Republicans who called the New Jersey Democrat’s comment absurd and inappropriate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) singled out Booker Thursday morning on the Senate floor and took note of his comment that “we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” a reference to Psalm 23.

“He’s citing Scripture to proclaim that this nominee is pure evil, of biblical proportions?” McConnell said. “He’s claiming that the senators and the American people who have an open mind on this nomination are ‘complicit in the evil.’ It’s truly outrageous — and not a single Democrat has come forward to condemn it.”

Booker’s comment at a news conference Tuesday could further inflame debate over Kavanaugh as red-state Democrats face pressure to support President Trump’s second Supreme Court pick.

Booker described the fight over Trump’s nominee as a battle between right and wrong in which “there is no neutral.”

“I’m here to call on folk to understand that in the moral moment there is no neutral,” Booker said, as shown in a video clip posted on YouTube by the Republican National Committee. “In a moral moment, there is no bystanders. You are either complicit in the evil, you are either contributing to the wrong, or you are fighting against it.”

Booker continued: “We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. But that doesn’t say, ‘Though I sit in the valley of the shadow of death.’ It doesn’t say that I’m watching on the sidelines of the valley of the shadow of death. …  It says I am taking agency, that I am going to make it through this crisis.”

“It’s hard to take statements like that seriously,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Wednesday in a floor speech. “To me, that’s completely unhinged and detached from any reality.”

Cornyn advised Democrats who are “engaged in this kind of superheated rhetoric” to “get a grip,” calling Booker’s statements “pretty apocalyptic” in an interview.

“What in the world? [Booker] needs to get a grip,” Cornyn said. “Everybody’s trying to outdo everybody else.”

Booker’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said Booker was resorting to “Armageddon-style rhetoric.”

“This is really quite alarming rhetoric,” Hatch tweeted Tuesday. “Just a few weeks in and it’s already startlingly clear that Senate Democrats will not challenge Kavanaugh on substance (because they won’t land a blow).”

Republicans want to confirm Kavanaugh before October, when the new Supreme Court term begins. Democrats have made a point of asking to review all documents from his time as a staffer in the George W. Bush White House and as a deputy to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, even if that means delaying the process.

It remains unclear how several key senators will vote, including Democrats Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), who represent states where majorities supported Trump in 2016. The three voted for Neil M. Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation last year.

Donnelly and Manchin have announced they will meet one-on-one with Kavanaugh in coming days, even as top Democrats refuse to participate in the custom until they resolve the dispute over the review of documents from Kavanaugh’s career.

The Democratic candidate for Senate in Tennessee, former governor Phil Bredesen, tweeted Wednesday that “someone has to step up and start putting an end to partisan bickering and rancor” over the Supreme Court nominee.

“We Democrats have a chance to show leadership in this with Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” he tweeted. “Democrats should meet with him, make an assessment, and vote their conscience and not a party line.”

Sean Sullivan contributed.