Confirmation Hearings or Campaign Stop?

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-California) at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January ( source )

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-California) at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January (source)


The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, left in full display the depth of political polarization within our legislature. The opening days of the confirmation hearings saw every possible attempt to derail Kavanaugh's nomination from the left. Frequent outbursts instigated by Anti-Trump protesters created chaos in the hearing room. Democratic members of the Committee called to postpone the hearings, citing unreleased and confidential documents dating from Kavanaugh's tenure as White House Staff Secretary under President George W. Bush. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee knew from the outset that any attempts to stop the hearings would be futile in a Republican-controlled Senate (though the accusations of sexual misconduct levied against the judge last week may have changed this dynamic). Still, for certain Senators, specifically Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), these hearings were not about examining Kavanaugh’s qualifications; they were about building their own personal reputations and becoming the faces of the Democratic Party.

No Democrat made a bigger deal out of the public not being able to examine every last document on Kavanaugh than Senator Cory Booker. On the second day  of the hearings, Booker released committee-confidential documents to the public, a violation of Senate rules that could, under the law, result in his removal from office. When Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) reminded him that he could be charged and removed from the Senate, Booker responded dramatically, “Bring it,” describing his actions as “the closest I’ll probably have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment.” The documents did not reveal anything significant, perhaps indicative of his oft described as histrionic behavior. In the end, Booker’s move seemed nothing more than a political stunt, especially considering his standing as a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Yet Booker was not alone in taking advantage of the platform the hearings provided to further solidify a national reputation. Senator Kamala Harris also drew attention during the proceedings for pressing Kavanaugh about the Mueller investigation and his connection to Kasowitz Benson Torres, a law firm founded by Donald Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz. When grilled about the investigation, Kavanaugh was quick to clarify that he had discussed aspects of the probe with other judges. But when Harris asked if he had spoken to anyone from Kasowitz Benson Torres specifically about the investigation, Kavanaugh appeared taken aback by the vagueness of the question. Kavanaugh then asked Harris to clarify whether she had anyone in mind. Her response was to speculate that he was hiding something and then repeat her questions in a condescending manner. Kavanaugh continued to explain that law firms employ large staffs, and thus he found it difficult to truthfully recall who he might have spoken to about the investigation. Harris’ failure to comprehend this simple concept should be worrisome to all Americans, but she instead received great praise from within her party. Harris’ questioning, much like Booker’s stunt, was not about assessing Kavanaugh’s qualifications; it was about rallying national support and preparing for a 2020 run. For Senators Booker and Harris, this was not a confirmation hearing. It was just the first of many campaign stops.

Opinion, ColumnsBen PiccianoComment