The Slatest

Senate Democrats Are Trying to Blow Up the Kavanaugh Hearings and It Might Be Working

Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in Washington.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

On Tuesday morning, as the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats finally began to put up a real fight.

Moments after Chairman Chuck Grassley attempted to commence the proceedings, Democratic senators launched a coordinated effort to halt them. Their complaint: Republicans, led by Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, rushed Kavanaugh’s confirmation in order to place him on the court as quickly as possible (and before the midterms). In the process, they’ve concealed millions of pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s work in the George W. Bush White House.

The fireworks continued throughout the morning; you can watch the livestream here:

Republicans refused to request documents from Kavanaugh’s three years as staff secretary, which the nominee has referred to as “the most interesting and informative for me” in preparation for his work on the bench. They’ve solicited only a fraction of documents from Kavanaugh’s work in the White House Counsel’s Office, and the National Archives, which determines which presidential records may be released, can’t finish its review until the end of October. So Republicans set up an alternate process overseen by GOP attorney William Burck to furnish some documents before then. Burck, who currently represents White House counsel Don McGahn, worked for Kavanaugh during the nominee’s tenure as staff secretary. And he now gets to decide which of his former boss’s records will be turned over to the committee.

On Friday, to no one’s surprise, Burck announced that he would withhold more than 100,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s service in the White House Counsel’s Office, citing (but not formally asserting) executive privilege. Then, hours before the start of the hearing, Burck dumped 42,000 pages on the committee but demanded that they not be released to the public. In sum, the senators who will soon vote on whether to give Kavanaugh a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land have seen just a tiny fraction of the nominee’s White House records.

And so, on Tuesday morning, Sen. Kamala Harris interrupted Grassley’s introduction to demand that the hearings be postponed until the committee received and reviewed a fuller range of documents.

Sen. Mazie Hirono backed Harris—then protesters interrupted the proceedings and were greeted by raucous applause. As soon as they were removed, Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced his support of Harris and Hirono, describing the hearing as “a charade and a mockery of our norms.” More demonstrators then exploded in protest. Once they were removed, Sen. Cory Booker appealed to Grassley’s “sense of decency and integrity” also asked the chairman to pause the hearings, describing the document-review process as a “violation of the values I’ve heard you talk about time and time again.”

“What is the rush?” Booker asked. “What are we trying to hide by not having the documents out front?”

More protesters. Hirono spoke again, then Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse lodged his grievance over Burck’s dubious claim of executive privilege. Sen. Patrick Leahy seconded Whitehouse’s objections as yet more protesters shouted from the back of the room. Blumenthal and Whitehouse called for a vote on reconvening the hearings at a later date. Sen. Amy Klobuchar attempted to force a vote, but Grassley stonewalled her. This back-and-forth continued for much of the morning and it was unclear when it would end. As the Daily Caller’s Kevin Daley pointed out on Twitter, there’s one possible reason Grassley would not allow Blumenthal’s motion for a vote to adjourn to proceed.

There is little chance that Democrats’ efforts will actually block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Republicans have the votes, and the Democratic base has largely failed to show up to the Kavanaugh fight. But the senators’ objections did prove that, at a bare minimum, they recognize the fundamental illegitimacy of these hearings and refuse (for now, at least) to play along with the charade. If Democrats in the committee were fully committed to exposing the farce of these hearings, they’d simply walk out—and leave the room full of the Republican politicians and operatives who rigged the process in the first place. But failing that, a group venting of Democratic disgust is a pretty effective way to open this sorry show.