On Thursday afternoon, lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, said she would be willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week under certain conditions.
If those conditions are met, Democrats have a plan for how to handle the highly delicate proceedings: they’ll lean heavily on two female members to do the brunt of the questioning, aides tell The Daily Beast.
Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are among the more junior members on the judiciary committee. Under normal circumstances, that would mean their time during a high-profile hearing would come near the end. But the two senators have decades of combined prosecutorial experience—including prosecuting, or overseeing the prosecution of, sex crimes—giving them unique insight into the allegations being leveled against Kavanaugh. And with a Supreme Court seat in the balance, some lawmakers are considering ceding a chunk of their time to the two ex-prosecutors should both Ford and Kavanaugh agree to testify.
“We’ve got members of the committee who are far more experienced than I am in these matters,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a member of the judiciary committee, said Tuesday on CNN. “They’ve actually handled sexual-assault cases or prosecuted public crime cases, and so they’re more likely to be agile, capable, well-informed questioners in this particular topic.”
Whether a hearing will happen at all remains unclear. Ford’s lawyers, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, backed off their earlier insistence that an FBI investigation be conducted before she testifies to the committee. But she still said that certain conditions had to be met before her client would testify. She also said that a Monday hearing—which the committee’s chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has called for—was not doable.
Both Republicans and Democrats know that any hearing involving Ford and Kavanaugh is fraught with political dangers. The closest parallel took place back in 1991, when Anita Hill was called before the judiciary committee after news reports revealed that she had accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Back then, every senator on the judiciary committee was male, and the aggressive, often insensitive, line of questioning of Hill—combined with then-Chairman Joe Biden’s indulgence of it—left female voters livid.
Today, the Republican side of the committee remains all-male—which reportedly has led them to decide to hire outside counsel to question Ford should she agree to testify.
The Democrats, by contrast, have four women on the panel, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) being the third and fourth. And their roles in a potential Ford-Kavanaugh hearing could prove pivotal, in the context of the Supreme Court confirmation fight in addition to the looming midterm elections, with Democrats relying on female voters in particular to help them re-gain control of the legislative branch.
“There’s a distinction between what we need to do as members of the Senate—we have a constitutional responsibility to advise and consent—versus the role of a criminal court, which would be to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt,” Harris, who only joined the committee in January, said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “Because the consequence of that is going to prison.”
Harris, who served as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general over a 25-year career as a prosecutor, specialized in child sexual-assault cases early in her career. Later, she focused her efforts on curbing sexual misconduct on college campuses. In 2016, when she was serving as attorney general, she slammed the judge who sentenced Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who was convicted of sexual assault, to just six months behind bars. She said the victim was denied “dignity.”
“In this situation, let’s be clear about this, this is about whether or not this guy should get a promotion. That’s the inquiry. And we do not have the burden of proving this beyond a reasonable doubt,” added Harris, who said this week that she believes Ford’s allegations. “This is about whether he has the judgment, the character, and the suitability to serve a lifetime appointment on the highest court. Which is a court that has, as its purpose and responsibility, to be the purveyor of justice.”
Harris’ no-holds-barred attitude both as a prosecutor and as a politician has launched her into the 2020 presidential spotlight, and she has rarely missed opportunities to put herself on the map as a suitable challenger to President Donald Trump. A Democratic aide familiar with the planning said the senator is expected to “take no prisoners” when or if she gets the chance to interrogate Kavanaugh again.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, once ran the largest prosecutor’s office in Minnesota and supervised an office that handled hundreds of sexual-assault and sexual-abuse cases during her tenure. Asked about how her questioning might change due to the circumstances under which Ford is appearing before the committee, the Minnesota lawmaker indicated it will come down to tone.
“A lawyer’s job at a hearing is to establish the facts and the evidence,” she said in a statement. “When you’re asking someone to relive an experience like this you need to treat them with respect.”
During her Senate career and in her capacity as the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, Klobuchar has introduced and sponsored bills aimed at curbing sexual harassment and abuse everywhere from college campuses to the military to the Senate. She has spoken frequently about how her work as a prosecutor in Minneapolis-Saint Paul informed those legislative endeavors.
While not a prosecutor, Hirono said it was a positive step that there were women on the committee, but said it was time for men to do their part as well.
“I just want to say to the men of this country, just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change,” she said.
Correction: an earlier version of this piece failed to note Feinstein's position on the committee.