Hos­til­ity grows with each nom­i­na­tion

Tra­di­tions get bro­ken, par­ti­san lines get deeper in toxic at­mos­phere

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ALEX SWOYER AND STEPHEN DINAN

Repub­li­cans pow­ered Jus­tice Brett M. Ka­vanaugh through the Se­nate last week­end, but not be­fore law­mak­ers said they had hit “rock bot­tom” with the poi­sonous at­mos­phere per­vad­ing the Capi­tol, leav­ing all sides fear­ful about what hap­pens the next time they are asked to con­firm a Supreme Court nom­i­nee.

Repub­li­can lead­ers said they hoped the 50-48 vote to con­firm Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh would be a cleans­ing mo­ment, send­ing a sig­nal that the nas­ti­ness of the past few months wasn’t a suc­cess­ful strat­egy for Democrats try­ing to sink a nom­i­nee whose le­gal cre­den­tials were stel­lar.

“A vote to con­firm Judge Ka­vanaugh to­day is a vote to end this brief, dark chap­ter in the Se­nate’s his­tory and turn the page to­ward a brighter to­mor­row,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can.

Mr. McCon­nell man­aged to shep­herd Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh through the Se­nate with the slimmest of ma­jori­ties in a hos­tile me­dia en­vi­ron­ment and with an elec­tion loom­ing in a month.

Hours af­ter the vote, Pres­i­dent Trump signed Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh’s com­mis­sion and Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr. ad­min­is­tered the oath of of­fice, putting the court back at its full con­tin­gent of nine jus­tices. But the scars of the bat­tle re­main. Democrats com­plained that Repub­li­cans broke tra­di­tions on ac­cess to doc­u­ments — mil­lions of pages of records from Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh’s time in the Bush White House went un­ex­am­ined — and on the na­ture of back­ground checks. They also were dis­ap­pointed that the FBI failed to cor­rob­o­rate 36-year-old ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault.

Democrats also said Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh low­ered the bar with his an­gry tes­ti­mony last month, when he sparred with sen­a­tors who ac­cused him of ly­ing, at­tempted rape, us­ing crude lan­guage and drink­ing as a teenager.

Repub­li­cans com­plained of a mas­sive lib­eral pub­lic re­la­tions ma­chine that worked over­time to fab­ri­cate er­ro­neous sto­ries about the judge’s 12 years of rul­ings, con­cocted con­spir­acy the­o­ries about why he was nom­i­nated, and then mal­treated Chris­tine Blasey Ford, who lodged the first mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions against Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh pri­vately, only to see them leaked.

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Is­land Demo­crat with more than two decades in the Se­nate, said both sides were to blame, with Repub­li­cans es­ca­lat­ing mat­ters. But he also said there is no go­ing back. “With­out some ma­jor change in the power of the ma­jor­ity, I hope there is no il­lu­sion among my col­leagues that we have en­dured over the last few weeks, if any­thing, the be­gin­ning of what is to come,” he said.

Sen. Thom Til­lis, a North Carolina Repub­li­can who as a mem­ber of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee had an up-close look at the past month’s cir­cus, cau­tioned Repub­li­cans not to stoop to the same tac­tics the next time a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent gets the chance to make a nom­i­na­tion.

“If Repub­li­cans ever de­cide to em­u­late the Democrats’ ‘search and de­stroy’ play­book, they can count me out. Do­ing so would stoop Congress to a level we should never see again,” he said.

On that count, he is bat­tling his­tory, which has proved that each new low set by one party is quickly em­braced by the other.

Repub­li­cans said they were fol­low­ing the lead of for­mer Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den, Delaware Demo­crat, when they re­fused to con­sider Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2016 nom­i­na­tion of Judge Mer­rick Gar­land to the Supreme Court, hold­ing the seat open for the next pres­i­dent to fill.

When Democrats pi­o­neered the par­ti­san fil­i­buster of ju­di­cial nom­i­nees un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, Repub­li­cans did the same for Mr. Obama.

In 2013, Democrats trig­gered the “nu­clear op­tion” chang­ing the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the rules to de­fang the fil­i­buster for most ju­di­cial nom­i­nees. Repub­li­cans fol­lowed last year and ex­panded the nu­clear op­tion for use on Supreme Court picks.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat, was asked last week whether he would try to re­verse that change and re­store the fil­i­buster’s power for Supreme Court nom­i­nees if Democrats take con­trol of the cham­ber. He was non­com­mit­tal.

“The bot­tom line is that the Repub­li­can leader moved it down to [50]. The bot­tom line is we’ll have to look at that should we get back into the ma­jor­ity,” he said.

Still, Mr. McCon­nell was op­ti­mistic that the Se­nate can re­cover.

Even dur­ing the Ka­vanaugh fight, he said, the Se­nate wrote and ap­proved two mas­sive spend­ing bills, cleared an an­tio­pi­oid pack­age and made head­way on other bi­par­ti­san pri­or­i­ties.

Those sorts of ac­com­plish­ments rely on the re­la­tion­ships sen­a­tors build up over decades, and there was ev­i­dence, even amid the strife, that the re­la­tion­ships re­main strong.

Min­utes af­ter Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat, at­tacked Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, for his han­dling of the Ka­vanaugh nom­i­na­tion, Mr. Durbin crossed the aisle to ex­change hand­shakes and a few chuck­les with Mr. Grass­ley.


Re­tired Jus­tice An­thony M. Kennedy ad­min­is­tered the Ju­di­cial Oath to the man who is tak­ing his seat, Brett M. Ka­vanaugh, at the Supreme Court. Ash­ley Ka­vanaugh held the Bi­ble as daugh­ters Mar­garet (back­ground) and Liza looked on.

Protesters ral­lied at the Supreme Court af­ter the Se­nate voted to con­firm Brett M. Ka­vanaugh.

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