‘We’ve been through worse,’ se­na­tors say

Hope for re­cov­ery af­ter ‘bit­ter’ Ka­vanaugh bat­tle

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Deb­o­rah Barfield Berry and El­iza Collins

WASH­ING­TON – An ex­hausted and bit­ter Se­nate moved to­ward ap­prov­ing Judge Brett Ka­vanaugh to the Supreme Court on Satur­day af­ter a month­s­long, bruis­ing bat­tle that caused deep di­vi­sions be­tween the two par­ties. But se­na­tors were hope­ful they would re­pair the dam­age – even­tu­ally.

“It’ll take a while. This was very hurt­ful for a num­ber of us and per­haps for some of them,” Demo­cratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware told USA TO­DAY. But is it pos­si­ble to re­cover? “Oh, yes,” he said. “We’ve been through worse.”

Ka­vanaugh, a con­ser­va­tive, was nom­i­nated to re­place Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy, who had been the court’s swing vote. With much at stake – Ka­vanaugh would give the court a 5-4 con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity – par­ti­san­ship rhetoric was in full force. Demo­cratic Sen. Bob Casey of Penn­syl­va­nia an­nounced his op­po­si­tion be­fore Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump even named Ka­vanaugh as his pick.

The nom­i­na­tion process dis­solved into an­gry ex­changes and nasty at­tacks over how each party han­dled al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault against Ka­vanaugh, which he adamantly de­nied.

“This hasn’t been our finest hour,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, chair of the Repub­li­can con­fer­ence, said of the Se­nate.

Speak­ing on the Se­nate floor to an­nounce she would vote for Ka­vanaugh, Sen. Su­san Collins, R-Maine, said the Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion process had been in de­cline for more than 30 years.

“One can only hope that the Ka­vanaugh nom­i­na­tion is where the process has fi­nally hit rock bot­tom,” she said.

In the week lead­ing up to Satur­day’s con­fir­ma­tion vote, Repub­li­can se­na­tors floated the idea of a con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how their Demo­cratic col­leagues han­dled the al­le­ga­tions against Ka­vanaugh. Democrats ac­cused Repub­li­cans of ig­nor­ing vic­tims of as­sault and ham­per­ing the FBI’s abil­ity to in­ves­ti­gate the claims.

“What you want to do is de­stroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and win in 2020,” South Carolina Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, a Repub­li­can who has at times worked closely with Democrats, fumed dur­ing an ex­plo­sive Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing last week when both Ka­vanaugh and his ac­cuser Dr. Chris­tine Blasey Ford tes­ti­fied.

“Boy, you all want power, I hope you never get it. … God, I hate to say it be­cause th­ese have been my friends, but let me tell you, when it comes to this, you’re look­ing for a fair process? You came to the wrong town,” he said.

But even with se­na­tors com­plain­ing about col­leagues across the aisle and the bit­ter par­ti­san­ship plagu­ing the body, more than a half-dozen law­mak­ers to whom USA TO­DAY spoke Fri­day be­lieved the rifts could even­tu­ally be mended. There were small signs of ci­vil­ity Fri­day dur­ing the pro­ce­dural vote to ad­vance Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion.

Repub­li­cans and Democrats came over to shake Alaska Repub­li­can Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s hand af­ter she voted no. Gra­ham was one of the first to walk over to her desk.

As the vote was un­der­way, Collins, the Maine Repub­li­can, leaned in to talk to Murkowski and placed her hand on Murkowski’s arm­rest. The two are close but were on op­po­site sides of the Ka­vanaugh vote.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who bro­kered a deal with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to de­lay Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion in or­der to al­low for the FBI probe, noted that they both had dif­fer­ent takes on Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion and both ended up vot­ing dif­fer­ently.

“He’s still my friend,” he said. “I don’t know if any­thing about this week has changed minds or votes on the Se­nate floor, but I think it has sent an im­por­tant sig­nal to the Amer­i­can peo­ple that we could still hear each other even over the din of last week’s very bit­ter, very bit­ter” com­mit­tee hear­ing.

“We’ve been through hard things be­fore,” he said. “The way you re­cover is by find­ing other things to work on to­gether, re­spect­ing each other, con­fronting the things about the in­sti­tu­tion that re­flect the bro­ken­ness in the coun­try and be­ing hope­ful.”

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion process has “been aw­ful” and “a low point for the Se­nate,” but he was also hope­ful the body would be able to re­cover over time.

“We’ll have to,” Wicker told USA TO­DAY, not­ing that Sen. David Per­due, R-Ga., read a Bible verse that “talked about bit­ter­ness” at the Se­nate Repub­li­can’s lunch Thurs­day.

“That was help­ful,” Wicker said. “There has been a lot said by peo­ple on the other side of the aisle who have been friends of mine, who have worked with me on bi­par­ti­san is­sues, that struck me as out of char­ac­ter and stunned me that they would say such things.”

De­spite the deep di­vide, se­na­tors did unite to pass two his­toric bi­par­ti­san bills in the week lead­ing up to the con­fir­ma­tion vote.

The Se­nate over­whelm­ingly passed leg­is­la­tion to com­bat the opi­oid cri­sis and a long-awaited mea­sure to, among other things, fund pro­grams at the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“All th­ese things prob­a­bly take a lit­tle bit of time (to heal), but in the end I think that there’s im­por­tant work that needs to be done and the Se­nate. As we all know, it takes bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion to get any­thing done,” Thune said.

Sen. Bill Cas­sidy, R-La., pointed to the Se­nate’s ap­proval Thurs­day of a res­o­lu­tion rais­ing aware­ness about sui­cide preven­tion that he worked on with Demo­crat Sen. Christo­pher Mur­phy of Con­necti­cut.

“There are things we con­tinue to col­lab­o­rate on,” Cas­sidy said.

“He’s still my friend. I don’t know if any­thing about this week has changed minds or votes on the Se­nate floor, but I think it has sent an im­por­tant sig­nal to the Amer­i­can peo­ple that we could still hear each other even over the din of last week’s very bit­ter, very bit­ter” com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., about Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who worked with him to bro­ker a deal but voted the op­po­site way on Ka­vanaugh

EVAN AGOSTINI/IN­VI­SION/AP

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., say they’re friends de­spite their po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ments.

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