Protesters on Wednesday again disrupted Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, as the nominee was grilled by senators over abortion, guns and whether a president should be investigated.
Moments after Chairman Chuck Grassley opened the hearing, shouting could be heard from the back of the room: “Sham president, sham justice!”
Kavanaugh, President Trump’s pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, appeared for his second day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s the first day senators have to question Kavanaugh.
The interruptions from protesters that started a day earlier continued Wednesday, as Grassley dinged Democrats for wasting time a day earlier on “disruption and disorder over procedural matters.”
“Democratic senators interrupted the hearing 63 times before lunch and in the audience 70 people were arrested yesterday who were following their lead,” Grassley said.
Ironically, protesters continued to shout as Kavanaugh discussed how he tried to be respectful in court.
“I’ve tried to be a very collegial judge, I’ve tried to be civil,” he said.
When the disruptions continued, Kavanaugh asked Grassley, “Should I proceed?”
Grassley told Kavanaugh to continue speaking, despite the outbursts.
“Let these people have their free speech and interrupt the other 300 million people listening,” the Iowa Republican said.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking member and the first Democrat to grill the nominee, began her questioning of Kavanaugh by referencing the outbursts.
“I’m sorry about the circumstances, but we’ll get through it,” she said.
Feinstein asked the nominee about his past case argument that Washington D.C.’s assault weapons ban was unconstitutional. He said he was following the precedent of the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh, who grew up near Washington, replied that, “I fully understand the gang violence, gun violence, drug violence that plagues various cities, including Washington, D.C….but as a judge, my job as I saw it was to follow the Second Amendment opinion of the Supreme Court.”
Feinstein pressed Kavanaugh over the Roe v. Wade court decision regarding abortion.
“Well, as a general proposition, I understand the importance of the precedent set forth in Roe versus Wade,” he said.
Feinstein also asked Kavanaugh about past comments regarding investigations involving a president. A staffer held up a sign with a 1999 law review quote from Kavanaugh that said, “If the president were the sole subject of an investigation, I would say no one should be investigating that.”
Kavanaugh said he’s never taken a position on the constitution on that question. He claimed those comments were about the “balance of a president fighting a war, leading a war, and a president subject to say ordinary civil lawsuits,” like former President Bill Clinton faced.
Kavanaugh, a former lawyer under President George W. Bush, vowed to serve as an independent judge.
“The first thing that makes a good judge is independence, not being swayed by political or public pressure,” Kavanaugh said, under questioning from Grassley. “That takes some backbone, that takes some judicial fortitude.”
Democrats on the panel, including a number thought to be considering a presidential run in 2020, Democrats, have sounded the alarm about Kavanaugh’s past work in Republican politics, including as a lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House.
On Wednesday, the Republicans and Democrats on the panel are being given 30 minutes each to ask Kavanaugh questions on live television.
“Look, this is the most powerful unelected position in the most powerful country in all human history. There’s no margin for error,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.” “We’ve got to be sure he’s the one.”
The questioning could go late into the evening Wednesday, and is set to continue through the week.
On Tuesday, protests from Democratic lawmakers and demonstrators delayed the formal start of proceedings by more than an hour. Within moments of Tuesday’s confirmation hearing kickoff, top Democrats tried to sideline the session with a rapid-fire string of objections concerning access to the nominee’s records.
The spectacle underscored the political nature of the confirmation hearings, coming two months before the midterms and as some senators gear up for a possible 2020 presidential run against President Trump. Several of those senators led the charge Tuesday in objecting to Kavanaugh.
The Capitol Police said they arrested 70 people on Tuesday.
Kavanaugh has left one of the longest paper trails of any recent Supreme Court nominee, having served for more than a decade on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and, before that, for five years as a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s office in the George W. Bush administration.
Kavanaugh also worked for independent counsel Ken Starr for three years during the probe that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, another possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, on Tuesday acknowledged he already decided to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But he pleaded to delay the vote until more documents are released.
“We should not vote now,” Booker said. “We should wait. And if we’re not waiting, we should object to your nomination.”
Democrats have specifically raised objections over how the Senate received 42,000 pages of Kavanaugh documents the night before the confirmation hearing began.
Republicans also argued Kavanaugh is highly qualified, saying Democrats aren’t making a case that he doesn’t have the experience to sit on the high court.
Kavanaugh’s elevation from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy would mark a generational rightward shift on the Supreme Court, raising the stakes beyond those of last year’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch.
The judge’s nomination, though, will ultimately succeed or fail depending on a handful of swing-vote senators, including vulnerable red-state Democrats and moderate pro-choice Republicans who have all said that they would withhold judgment on the nominee.
Republicans command a narrow 50-49 Senate majority, which would return to 51-49 once a Republican successor to the late Sen. John McCain is seated. While the hearing was ongoing Tuesday, former Sen. Jon Kyl was named to that seat.
Republicans have little margin for error, though Vice President Pence can break a tie.
Republicans have said they hope to have Kavanaugh confirmed by a floor vote by early October, when the next Supreme Court term begins.
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