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As Kavanaugh Nomination Hearing Begins, Democrats Decry Process

14 hours ago
Originally published on September 4, 2018 9:53 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Senators were only a few words in to a hearing on Brett Kavanaugh when conflict broke out. Kavanaugh is President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. He's before the Senate Judiciary Committee - you know, advise and consent, all that. And as Chairman Chuck Grassley tried to begin proceedings, Democrats objected.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: We believe this hearing should be postponed.

CHUCK GRASSLEY: I know this is an exciting day for all of you here.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman...

GRASSLEY: And you're rightly proud of the judge.

BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, if we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn.

GRASSLEY: The American people get to hear...

BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.

GRASSLEY: ...Directly...

(APPLAUSE)

GRASSLEY: ...From Judge Kavanaugh.

INSKEEP: The call to postpone the hearing was disregarded. It's gone ahead. Here this morning and NPR's congressional correspondent, Scott Detrow has been watching.

Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So why were Democrats pushing for a delay?

DETROW: Well, they were very upset about something we've talked for a while about, and that's the amount of documents that have been released from Judge Kavanaugh's time in the Bush White House. Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents have been released, but that's really just a sliver of the total documents out there. There are no documents at all from his time as staff secretary, which is really air traffic control. Grassley called it the inbox and the outbox of any presidency.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DETROW: What have been released are a lot of documents from his time in the White House counsel's office. But the Trump administration has withheld more than 100,000 pages' worth for executive privilege reasons. And the rest have been - it's been a private lawyer from the Bush administration, from the Bush Library, deciding what Democrats and the rest of the Senate see and not. Democrats have been upset about this for a while. They've been trying to raise attention to the issue. So just moments after Grassley gaveled in the session, Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, cut in to say this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago, 42,000...

UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: Mr. Chairman, regular order.

HARRIS: ...Pages of documents that we have not...

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL SOUNDING)

HARRIS: ...Had an opportunity...

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL SOUNDING)

HARRIS: ...To review...

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL SOUNDING)

HARRIS: ...Or read or analyze.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL SOUNDING)

GRASSLEY: You are out of order. I'll proceed.

HARRIS: We cannot possibly move forward, Mr. Chairman, at this hearing.

GRASSLEY: I extend a very warm welcome...

HARRIS: We have not been given an opportunity...

GRASSLEY: ...To Judge Kavanaugh...

HARRIS: ...To have a meaningful...

GRASSLEY: ...To his wife, Ashley.

HARRIS: ...Hearing on this nominee.

INSKEEP: I should mention, since he said I extend a very warm welcome to Judge Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh's sitting there the entire time impassively, wordlessly all day, if I'm not mistaken, while all the senators talk.

DETROW: It's an impressive poker face. I myself would not be able to pull that off. But Kavanaugh has sat there through all of this. And Grassley is known in the Senate for having a temper at times. But he, for the most part, has let Democrats cut in. He's expressed his frustration. Many Democrats are asking for a delay for all of these documents to be reviewed. And many Democrats are pointing out that Republicans had no problem delaying a Supreme Court nomination for months in 2016 when they refused to hold a vote on Merrick Garland, who President Obama had nominated.

INSKEEP: Let's give a listen to some more of what Chuck Grassley has had to say then.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRASSLEY: And I've been accused of having a mob rule session. Now, if we have a mob rule session, it's because the chairman's not running the committee properly. But since every one of you on that side of the aisle, except Senator Booker, Senator Harris - new to the committee - said, during Justice Gorsuch's hearing, every one of you prefaced your comments on how fair I was in running that hearing. Now, this is the same Chuck Grassley that ran the Gorsuch hearing. I'd like to run this hearing the same way if you'll give me the courtesy of doing it.

INSKEEP: And I suppose Republicans have an opportunity not only to defend their process but to defend their nominee. This is, to an extent, a day of speeches. Is it not?

DETROW: It is. We aren't expecting to hear from Judge Kavanaugh until the very end of today's hearing, probably even later now that they're about an hour and a half behind the initial schedule. Today you're going to be hearing from every Democrat and Republican on the committee, and then Kavanaugh speaks. And tomorrow will be questions and answers.

INSKEEP: Let's review some things that make Kavanaugh an exciting nominee for many conservatives and also a nominee of concern for many people who are more on the left. This is a guy who is off of a list given by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization, to President Trump. This is a guy who would be an additional conservative vote on the Supreme Court and, in a sense, a swing vote. Right?

DETROW: He is the prime example of how well Republicans in the conservative movement have focused on grooming Supreme Court nominees over decades-long periods. He was first nominated early in George W. Bush's presidency. Democrats denied a vote on him. He was finally confirmed a couple years later during the Bush administration. He had been a staffer for George W. Bush's White House. He had, before that, worked for Ken Starr's investigation of President Bill Clinton. When he was first nominated for the federal bench, Dick Durbin said, you're like the Forrest Gump of Republican politics. But he was nominated at the time as a young man. He's only in his early 50s now. So he's someone with a proven conservative track record who, if confirmed, could be on the court for decades.

INSKEEP: You mentioned Ken Starr's investigation of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, which culminated in his impeachment and then acquittal. Didn't he change his opinion about that sort of investigation, Kavanaugh?

DETROW: He did. And you can expect a lot of hearing questions about that over the next few days given the fact that President Trump's White House is being investigated right now. He wrote a legal article a couple years into his time on the federal bench, saying his time in the Bush administration had made him rethink just how much a chief executive has on his or her plate. And he thought that it might be more proper to wait for any sort of criminal proceedings until somebody is out of the White House.

INSKEEP: Now, I want to play some tape here from Hawaii Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono, who was on the program earlier today. And she gave that very finding, that very opinion rather, by Judge Kavanaugh as a reason that she refused to meet with him before the hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MAZIE HIRONO: I think that one of the main reasons that President Trump nominated Judge Kavanaugh is that Judge Kavanaugh is the only person who actually wrote that a sitting president should be basically free of any criminal or civil investigations or subpoenas. I think that...

INSKEEP: Oh, that's very interesting. He did - he participated in the investigation of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s but...

HIRONO: Certainly.

INSKEEP: ...Later felt that that was going too far...

HIRONO: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...That was distracting a president.

HIRONO: And this president under the gun, I'm sure that Judge Kavanaugh's perspective about presidential powers and immunities really were brought to his attention. And I'm sure he thought, well, this would be a really great nominee.

INSKEEP: OK. She doesn't sound like somebody who's very likely to vote for Judge Kavanaugh in the end. But are there, Scott Detrow, some Democrats who are on the fence, who might very well vote for this nominee when it comes down to it?

DETROW: Yes, specifically Democrats who are up for re-election this fall in states that President Trump won by a wide margin and also voted for Neil Gorsuch, chief among them - Joe Manchin from West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks for your insights. We'll let you get back to the hearing.

DETROW: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.