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The Kavanaugh Allegations Are a Test and Republicans, They're Failing

The GOP is showing that it doesn't really care about investigating the accusations against Trump's Supreme Court pick.

by Harry Cheadle
Sep 19 2018, 8:09pm

Left: Photo of Brett Kavanaugh by Chip Somodevilla/Getty. Right: Photo of Lindsey Graham by Win McNamee/Getty

It's been only a few days since Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused of attempting to rape a woman when they were both teenagers at a party, but there have already been a rush of judgements and debates, arguments and counterarguments that blossomed in the absence of anyone knowing anything. Even as Kavanaugh denied the allegations full stop, conservatives came forward to argue that even if they were true, his actions as a teen weren't actually that big a deal. Supporters and peers of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, have circulated letters backing her up and given interviews to the media. Reprehensible articles insinuating that Ford was part of some Democratic plot to bring Kavanaugh have spread widely on Facebook.

But we're little closer to finding out any new information about what actually happened. Ford now says she won't testify before the Senate unless the FBI looks into the incident, but while Donald Trump could order the agency to do so, it doesn't seem likely that he will. Instead, he told reporters, he'd prefer her to appear before the Senate Judiciary on Monday for the scheduled hearing she's already rejected. “If she shows up, that would be wonderful,” he said Wednesday. “If she doesn’t show up, that would be unfortunate.” The Republican members of the committee largely echoed that line, saying that an FBI investigation was unnecessary. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham was particularly blunt about it, saying on Twitter that Ford's request "is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections" and insisting that "It is imperative the Judiciary committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken ASAP."

Maybe more clearly than Graham intended, this shows what the debate over Kavanaugh is about: not the truth of the accusation or what to do about prominent figures who've done terrible things (in this case, when they were much younger), but the power that conservatives can acquire with another right-wing justice on the Supreme Court. If confirming Kavanaugh means granting a lifetime appointment to a man who might have assaulted a girl years ago, then lied about it, Republicans will take that over the alternative, which is to risk not having a majority on the court.

In the month and a half between now and the midterms, there is ample time to attempt to learn more. The Judiciary Committee could negotiate with Ford to get her to answer questions, in writing if not in an open hearing. The committee could also try to learn what it could from other sources, including Mark Judge, the man who Ford says was in the room when Kavanaugh tried to rape her—but Republicans are refusing to subpoena him. And again, the White House could do what the George H.W. Bush administration did in 1991 during the Anita Hill controversy and order an FBI investigation. Instead, the GOP is giving Ford a take-it-or-leave-it offer: a daylong hearing, or we'll just confirm the guy.

You don't need to assume that the allegations are true to wish they were explored in more depth. If Kavanaugh didn't actually do what Ford is accusing him of, it'd be to his—and his family's—advantage to have his name cleared. An investigation, properly conducted, would give the public some more information that could be used to weigh the allegations and cut through some of the partisan shouting that has accompanied the controversy.

If we were taking this truly seriously, Graham's calls for a quick confirmation vote would have been excoriated from all sides. Sure, there's a chance that if Kavanuagh's confirmation were delayed past the midterms, Democrats would retake the Senate and block any attempt by Trump to appoint a conservative justice. But is that prospect really worse than that of installing a man who assaulted a woman and then lied about it on the Supreme Court for life?

The #MeToo movement has forced people to consider the idea that beloved public figures (usually men) have routinely behaved horribly toward people (usually women) in private. It also calls upon everyone to consider whether we want those who have harassed and assaulted to be in positions of authority and influence, a question that tests our partisan instincts. If a widely admired judge or politician is accused, people on their end of the ideological spectrum will often defend them and minimize the accusations. To admit the accuser may be telling the truth is to open the door to surrendering some measure of power, whether it's a seat on a court or a seat in the Senate.

That's to say that when someone from any given side of American politics is accused of something like what Kavanaugh has been accused of, it's a test: Are you open to hearing that a figure you back may have done things that disqualify them from wielding power? Or do you just want more victories for people you agree with politically, at any cost? Republicans as a party failed this test as Trump rose to power, they failed as Roy Moore nearly got elected to the Senate, and it looks like they're failing again now.

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supreme court
Lindsey Graham
Brett Kavanaugh