The hearing for Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was dominated by loud voices that challenged the manners and decorum of the Senate: Kavanaugh’s angry rejection of the proceeding as a coordinated attempt to destroy him. The bitter rant of Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) in support of the nominee at the expense of his colleagues. The sharp questioning of the nominee by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.).
But amid the din, another voice stood out: Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), whose calm and levelheaded demeanor during the hearing contrasted with the uproar around him.
On Friday afternoon, Coons and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) withdrew to an anteroom, delaying the Senate Judiciary Committee’s scheduled vote on whether to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor. Earlier, Coons had reportedly choked up when he was told by a CNN reporter that Flake planned to vote yes on Kavanaugh’s nomination. But at some point Flake decided to make what amounted to a compromise. He would back Kavanaugh’s nomination for a full Senate vote but withhold his support in a floor vote unless the FBI was allowed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by the nominee.
That decision, a concession to the repeated requests made by Democrats, brought Coons nearly to tears. The senator rewarded Flake’s nod to bipartisanship — and due process — with effusive praise and was unafraid to give the Republican senator credit for taking a stand. What followed was one of the more stirring expressions of cooperation during a week in which Washington’s rank and well-publicized partisanship shocked even the city’s most jaded observers.
“Let me simply say this. Senator Flake is a genuine conservative,” Coons told reporters. “He and I do not share a lot of political views, but we share a deep concern.”
He then paused, appearing to choke up, and said “Sorry,” before continuing.
“Senator Flake and I share a deep concern for the health of this institution and what it means to the rest of the world and to our country if we are unable to conduct ourselves respectfully and in a way that hears each other,” Coons said. “I frankly think that what Senator Flake is trying to do is to both achieve a brief, credible investigation of allegations in front of us and serve as a role model as he has for me today of someone who is willing to take a real political risk and upset many in his party by asking for a pause so that the American people can hear that we are able to work together on some things.”
Coons’s emotion earned him a snide headline at the right-wing website Breitbart, which posted a picture of him along with “Get this man a hankie.”
Coons’s demeanor had also stood out during the hearing on Thursday. He earned applause from many supporters of Christine Blasey Ford by saying that he was “really troubled by the excuse offered by too many, that this was a high school incident, and boys will be boys.”
“To me, that’s just far too low a standard for the conduct of boys and men in our country,” he said.
And when it was his turn to question Kavanaugh, he pressed forward coolly and steadily, despite Kavanaugh’s reluctance to answer his questions in a substantive way.
“Put yourself in our shoes for a moment if you would, judge, and I know that’s asking a lot of you in this setting,” Coons said toward the end of his time. “But suppose you’d gone through a process to select someone for an incredibly important job in a position, you had a lot of qualified candidates, and as you’re finishing the hiring process you learn of a credible allegation that, if true, would be disqualifying. Wouldn’t you either take a step back and conduct a thorough investigation or move to a different candidate? And why not agree to a one-week pause to allow the FBI to investigate all these allegations and allow you an opportunity, a week from now, to have the folks present in front of us, for us to assess their credibility and for us to either clear your name or resolve these allegations by moving to a different nominee?”
Coons, who was first elected to fill Joe Biden’s Senate seat in 2010, has earned a reputation as a moderate with bipartisan leanings, which has made him a target of some on the left.
“Coons is a favorite punching bag of Delaware’s rambunctious liberal blogs, where many people think he’s either a secret Republican, a corporate stooge or a coward unwilling to fight for his principles,” Delaware Online reported.
Politico called him the “GOP’s favorite Democrat” in a profile in May, noting that his moderation had made him an “increasingly influential dealmaker” in the Capitol.
In April, Coons changed his vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from “no” to “present” to allow then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination for secretary of state to proceed to the Senate floor to spare another Republican friend, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, from having to rush back from a funeral, a move that brought Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to tears.