The Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee gathered in front of the Supreme Court steps early Tuesday morning to declare that they were staging a “silent protest” of the committee’s consideration of Brett Kavanaugh to sit on the high court.
It was anything but silent.
Less than five minutes into the hearing, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a rising liberal star and a possible 2020 presidential contender, interjected before the committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), could even say Kavanaugh’s name.
“Mr. Chairman, I’d like to be recognized to ask a question before we proceed,” Harris began. “The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago…”
Grassley, determined to quash the uprising, forged ahead with welcoming the nominee, pausing briefly to chide Harris, who was referring to the transmission of 42,000 documents to the committee the night before.
“You are out—you’re out of order. I’ll proceed,” he said.
He was interrupted again before he got the chance.
Harris was soon joined by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Mazie Hirono (HI), who all called for the hearing to be postponed as Grassley became visibly frustrated. For the next hour, the usually staid judiciary committee devolved into chaos as Democrats, one after another, sparred with an increasingly irritated Grassley.
As the senators bickered, protesters—mostly from Women’s March and the Center for Popular Democracy Action—added to the cacophony, at times drowning out the senators before Capitol Police pulled them from the room. There was a heavy police presence inside and outside the hearing room, and officers arrested 22 demonstrators within the first hour. By the end of the hearing, 70 people had been arrested.
Tuesday’s antics were all part of a plan—a clear escalation of Democrats’ ongoing attempts to delay and derail Kavanaugh’s nomination. In recent weeks, they’ve run through a litany of arguments to achieve that—from President Donald Trump’s former lawyer implicating him in a federal crime, to the Trump administration’s refusal to release 100,000 documents from Kavanaugh’s service in the Bush White House.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) convened a conference call with all of the committee’s Democrats over the Labor Day weekend to put the strategy together, Democratic sources told The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, their liberal base has put pressure on lawmakers to fight even harder. But the reality from the beginning has been that the minority party has few, if any, tools at their disposal to slow down what many of them acknowledge is next to inevitable: Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the Senate.
“Democrats strongly object to moving forward when so much of his record remains secret. We are shocked at the efforts being undertaken to jam this nominee through and hide his record from the American public. We go to these hearings under protest,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member of the judiciary committee.
It took more than two hours of outbursts, shouting matches, interruptions, and protests before the hearing had some sense of normalcy, with senators reading their opening statements in advance of tomorrow’s session, when lawmakers will have the opportunity to question Kavanaugh directly.
It is unclear whether Democrats plan on employing those same tactics for Kavanaugh’s hearings over the rest of the week. But those involved in the planning said they didn’t understand what the fuss was about; Democrats have said for weeks that the hearings should be delayed, and have been searching for ways to derail the process. This was one way to try.
“In what world would senators not be in touch before a big hearing like this? What, like Senate Republicans haven’t been talking about what they’re going to ask Kavanaugh?” said one Democratic aide.
Republicans saw it differently.
“They’re trying to navigate the rapids. We had that same problem,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who voted for both of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. “I was told a thousand times to impeach Obama. Like every 15 minutes, I was supposed to impeach him. They’re going to have the same drama. I was told that [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Elena] Kagan were going to ruin the country for the rest of my lifetime. That’s just the way it is.”
Unsurprisingly, President Donald Trump loomed large during the hearing. Several Democratic senators, including Republican Jeff Flake (AZ), pointed to the president’s Monday tweet in which he suggested that the Justice Department should keep Republicans’ electoral fortunes in mind when it announces indictments against sitting lawmakers.
Flake said he was concerned that the Trump administration “doesn’t seem to understand and appreciate separation of powers and the rule of law.” Other Democrats, meanwhile, kept pushing their argument that Trump should not even be choosing a Supreme Court nominee in light of his former attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, in which he implicated the president in a federal crime.
In some ways, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) explained, the protests—both on the dais and in the public seating area—were about Trump.
“You’re the person he wants on the Supreme Court. You are his personal choice,” Durbin said. “So are people nervous about this? Are they concerned about it? Of course they are.”