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Democrats spent more than an hour trying to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chairman, was still making his opening remarks when the Democrats jumped in.

by Carter Sherman
Sep 4 2018, 3:30pm

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing had barely begun Tuesday morning when Democrats went all-in on an attempt to halt the proceedings.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chairman, was still making his opening remarks when California’s Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris jumped in, just after 9:30 a.m.

“Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman,” Harris said, interrupting Grassley as he tried to wish the packed committee room a “good morning.”

“I’d like to be recognized for a question before we proceed," Harris said. "The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago, 42,000 pages of documents that we have not had an opportunity to review or read or analyze."

“You’re out of order. I’ll proceed,” Grassley said.

“We cannot possibly move forward with this hearing,” Harris said in reply. And in a clearly coordinated effort, the Democrats supported her motion, jumping in with individual objections to Kavanaugh’s nomination and the decision to release more than 42,000 documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House on Monday night.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Illinois said the lack of documents “turns this hearing into a charade and a mockery of our norms,” while Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey argued that, “We are rushing through this process in a way that is unnecessary.” And Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii asked why Democrats had to submit their questions for Kavanaugh before the hearing, a process she called “unprecedented.”

Democrats also objected to the Trump White House’s decision to withhold more than 100,000 documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House on the basis of executive privilege. “Executive privilege has never been invoked to block the release of presidential records to the senate during a supreme court nomination,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said.

The Democrats refused to allow Grassley to begin his opening statement for more than hour, assailing him with objection after objection and repeatedly asking for a chance to vote on whether to postpone or adjourn the hearing.

Grassley seemed at first dumbfounded by the effort, but quickly grew incensed, declaring the Democrats were “out of order,” and flatly refusing to consider their motions to vote on the basis that they were violating procedure. He also argued that hundreds of thousands of records on Kavanaugh had been released — more than the last five confirmed nominees combined — and said that Senate Judiciary Republicans had satisfactorily reviewed all the records.

“Maybe senators haven’t read them, but their staff is fully informed,” Grassley said, prompting someone off-camera to murmur, “For the record, that’s a rate of 7,000 per hour. That’s superhuman.”

The senators’ arguing, which Texas’ Republican Sen. John Cornyn dubbed a “mob rule,” was frequently punctuated with yelling from a group of protesters in the room, who were escorted out by police officers.

Throughout it all, Kavanaugh sat silently, watching the verbal volleying with his lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed. (He was briefly able to thank his family for attending the hearing before the fighting began again.)

“However long people want to take — we’re going to not necessarily accomodate all obstruction — but if people got something to say, this chairman’s gonna let them say,” Grassley said at one point. “But it gets pretty boring to hear the same thing all the time.”

“Why would we want to delay this?” Booker struck back. “Sir, just on the basic ideals of fairness, the traditions of this body, we should have a thorough understanding of the nominee that’s put before us, so that we can vet them to go into this hearing — without those documents, [this] is an undermining of the constitutional role that we have.”

“What is being done here is unprecedented,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who has spent more than four decades in the Senate. “I’m just sorry to see the Senate Judiciary Committee serve this way.”

Ultimately, the Democrats’ campaign to drag out the hearing petered out, and a little before 11 a.m., Grassley finally began his opening statement.

Cover image: Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh points to his family as he arrives for testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.