Terrified vs. Belligerent: Dr. Ford vs. Judge Kavanaugh

By

Leonard Zwelling

Late Thursday, September 27, as I write this blog, we learned that the Senate Judiciary Committee will be voting tomorrow on the fitness of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for a place on the Supreme Court. That fact would not have been big news a few weeks ago. It is now.

Today, Thursday, the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate held the most extraordinary of hearings. The morning four hours or so were devoted to listening to the claims of Dr. Christine Blassey Ford that when she and Judge Kavanaugh were in high school he sexually assaulted her. The questions for the GOP side were asked by a hired gun, a woman named Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona. The Democratic members asked their own questions. By all accounts that I have read on the web, Dr. Ford was a credible and sympathetic albeit reluctant witness. It is not beyond belief that what she claims to have happened all those years ago really did happen.

The GOP Senators must have been concerned enough about Dr. Ford’s performance as a witness that they regained control of the questioning for the afternoon session at which the witness was Judge Kavanaugh himself. There were a couple of key takeaways.

The Judge was very confrontational with the questioning Democrats up to and including asking Senator Klobuchar about her own drinking habits despite her having informed him that her father was an alcoholic. So Kavanaugh is insensitive. The Judge would not ask for the FBI to investigate the latest claims against him and dismissed the FBI as not being able to come to conclusions. So what! At least they can try to get the facts. Judge Kavanaugh might have been expected to take a conciliatory tone, admitting that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted, just not by him. Instead he admitted to not even having watched her testimony.

The GOP Senators all apologized to Kavanaugh for having been made to endure these last few weeks. None of these Senators apologized to Dr. Ford during her time before the committee.

I am going to have to assume that Chairman Chuck Grassley must have the votes to report the Judge’s name out of committee and on to the Senate floor for a vote of all the members. The conclusion rests in the hands of a few Senators. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) represent the Republicans who have not committed to the Judge’s confirmation. I assume that Jeff Flake (AZ) must have agreed to vote for him if they are going to take a committee vote, although even that is not clear. He’s the swing vote on the committee. I am assuming he licked his forefinger and thrust into the air and felt that his ultimate bid for the Presidency will require support from the Trump base. No courage there—at least not yet.

There are also three Democrats in the balance, Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Claire McCaskill (MO). They are Democrats up for reelection to the Senate in November who come from Red States that Trump carried in 2016.

The political calculus being computed in the heads of every Senator is considerable. What they all would like to know is what America thought of today and especially their constituents. They won’t have long to figure it out if the Committee votes tomorrow. It is likely the full Senate will be voting next week, unless Mitch McConnell does not have the 51 votes he needs to pass Judge Kavanaugh. No one is really sure just yet.

It’s going to be a nail biter.

What I do know is that the world changed today whether the 11 white guys on the GOP side of the dais like it or not. The woman’s tale cannot be dismissed. She got her hearing. This is a major advance from the Anita Hill hearing. No matter who prevails in this fight, it was a battle in the era of #MeToo. It’s another step for women’s rights. We’re not there yet. But after today, we are closer. The woman was credible in the face of terror. The man was belligerent and bullyish when a more conciliatory tone was called for. Nothing new there. But this was a damned sight better than Hill vs. Thomas.

As an observer, I have no idea where the truth lies. I am one of those who think that giving the FBI a week or two to use its considerable investigatory power to get to the bottom of all this would be a wise thing for President Trump to insist upon.

What I fear now is that Kavanaugh will be confirmed now and an investigation by someone later will unearth that he was lying. Just what we need—an impeachment of a sitting member of the Supreme Court. Wouldn’t it be better to clear the air first?

Leonard Zwelling